Washington, DC (23 October 2015) – Marking the occasion of World Polio Day, United Arab Emirates (UAE) Ambassador to the United States Yousef Al Otaiba hosted a special event in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which addressed the successes and most pressing challenges in the global fight to eradicate polio.
The event, which was held at the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC, featured a discussion with Dr. Jay Wenger, Director of the polio program at the Gates Foundation, and Dr. Elias Durry, Senior Emergency Advisor on Polio for the World Health Organization’s Eastern Mediterranean Region and former WHO lead in Pakistan.
Panelists discussed the progress that has been made against polio, the importance of sustaining momentum to achieve eradication and tactics for overcoming remaining challenges, including delivering vaccines to children in communities that are difficult for health workers to access. The program was moderated by BBC journalist Kim Ghattas, and also featured excerpts from the acclaimed Image Nation Abu Dhabi documentary film, Every Last Child, which provided glimpses from the front lines of the fight to end polio in Pakistan.
During the event, Geoffrey Lamb, Chief Economic and Policy Advisor at the Gates Foundation, also announced that Abu Dhabi will host the Heroes of Polio Eradication ceremony (HOPE) held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, and in partnership with the Gates Foundation. The awards will honor the heroes who have worked tirelessly to eradicate the disease.
“The UAE has a long tradition of supporting humanitarian relief projects around the world,” said Ambassador Al Otaiba at the event. “We are honored to partner with the Gates Foundation in the area of global public health. Through our collective efforts, we are improving the lives of children worldwide and preparing them for a healthy and successful future.”
In line with the UAE’s ongoing commitment to providing humanitarian assistance for vulnerable children around the world, the country has emerged as a leader in the fight against polio. Since 2011, the UAE has worked in partnership with the Gates Foundation to promote public health through supporting the distribution of vaccines, including for polio eradication efforts. In 2013, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Bill Gates, Co-chair of the Gates Foundation, hosted the first Global Vaccine Summit in Abu Dhabi. The UAE has pledged $120 million to date to support polio eradication efforts.
Between 2014 and May of 2015, the UAE Anti-Polio Vaccination Campaign supported the administration of 86.6 million vaccination doses across 53 areas in Pakistan.
“Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan have an extraordinary opportunity to put the world over the finish line for polio eradication,” stated Dr. Jay Wenger. “With a combination of country leadership, strong immunization campaigns and support from partners like the UAE, we can overcome last-mile challenges and make sure that no child has to suffer from this devastating disease again.”
Globally, there has been dramatic progress made against polio thanks to a 25-year concerted international effort, and the world is now on the verge of seeing a disease eradicated for the second time in history. Only two countries have recorded cases of wild polio so far this year – Pakistan and Afghanistan – and there have been just 51 cases reported in those countries, compared to 242 globally during the same period last year.
Dr. Durry, who has been instrumental in polio eradication efforts in Pakistan, is featured in Image Nation’sEvery Last Child.
“We have seen tremendously positive developments in the campaign to eradicate polio in Pakistan,” said Dr. Durry. “Through the unyielding dedication of our partners on the ground, we are getting closer and closer to eliminating the disease for good.”
Every Last Child recounts the lives of five people impacted by polio in Pakistan, telling of their determination to stop polio in the face of numerous obstacles, including public misperceptions and the threat of violence. The documentary was originally created to support the UAE’s efforts to vaccinate millions of children in hard-to-reach areas of Pakistan and raise international awareness of polio eradication.
“The UAE has been a fantastic leader in the fight against polio in Pakistan, and we’re glad the film is able to support the cause by raising awareness of the ongoing campaign to wipe out this disease,” said Mohamed Al Mubarak, Chairman, Image Nation. “It’s an honor to help tell the story of the tireless and heroic efforts of the health workers administering vaccines on the ground.”
The UAE Embassy’s event was attended by senior US government and global public health officials, members of the diplomatic community, high-profile media and business leaders.
Since the 1988 launch of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative(link is external) (GPEI) – a partnership spearheaded by national governments, the World Health Organization, Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UNICEF – the incidence of polio has been reduced by more than 99 percent. Before the initiative began, more than 350,000 children were paralyzed every year, in more than 125 endemic countries. Today, more than 2.5 billion children have been immunized against polio globally and the disease is endemic in just two countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan, where there have been 38 and 13 cases reported so far this year, respectively.
About the United Arab Emirates
The UAE is a source of stability, tolerance, innovation and growth in the Arabian Gulf and around the world. The United States and the UAE are close friends and strong allies, working together to promote regional security, create economic prosperity and address pressing global challenges. In fact, the UAE is the largest export market for US goods in the Middle East and more US naval vessels visit UAE ports than any other port outside the United States. Cultural, educational and medical partnerships between the UAE and US are spurring innovation, inspiring creativity and increasing understanding in both countries.
About the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people—especially those with the fewest resources—have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. Based in Seattle, Washington, the foundation is led by CEO Sue Desmond-Hellmann and Co-chair William H. Gates Sr., under the direction of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett.
About Image Nation Abu Dhabi
Image Nation Abu Dhabi is one of the leading media and entertainment companies in the Arabic-speaking world, producing local and international films, documentaries and television content.
The company aims to build a sustainable film and television industry in Abu Dhabi and the United Arab Emirates.
Image Nation’s slate includes Emirati produced feature films (From A to B, Sea Shadow), cause-driven documentaries (He Named Me Malala, Every Last Child), insightful television shows (Beyond Borders, Hayati Walaskariya) and award-winning international co-productions (The Help, Flight, 99 Homes).