The fight to remove polio from the world is nearly over. An international partnership of over 200 countries, led by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), with the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has seen the virus diminished to just 100 reported cases in 2015, making the virus nearly extinct.
Polio, long thought by the public to be eradicated from the world, is a virus that is transmitted from human to human that causes paralysis within its victims within 24 hours. In rare cases, 1 out of every 200 people infected with polio never recover movement, remaining paralyzed for the duration of their lives. Although much of the world is polio-free, with Nigeria being the latest country to declare themselves as such in 2014, there are two countries — Pakistan and Afghanistan — where polio is still endemic.
Any country that has polio as an endemic problem is cause for alarm. With international travel at a high, it is estimated that over 200,000 cases of polio could occur internationally every year that polio is not eradicated.
In April of 2013, the UAE stepped up to the challenge of eradicating polio at a global summit, pulling together over $4 billion in funds to help the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, who works tirelessly in the field to vaccinate the children of Pakistan. They set up a six-year plan to eradicate polio, with donations going to help fund clinics and door-to-door vaccinations in Pakistan and parts of Afghanistan. The UAE Ambassador to the United States, Yousef Al Otaiba (https://ambassadoryousefalotaiba.wordpress.com/), recently announced that over 85 million vaccines have been distributed throughout Pakistan as part of this plan.
Problems remain, however. Medical staff and vaccination volunteers are often targets of violence in these areas, many of which are marked as hostile zones. The Pakistani Taliban and other militants have been accused of as many as 60 deaths of vaccinators working in their regions. Many working in the field are also dealing with misconceptions of the vaccine, with citizens accusing the West of interfering — and spying — on their country.
But the Global Polio Eradication Initiative remains undeterred. They have continued their work, lowering the reported cases of polio down to less than 100 new cases last year.
Now the brave men and women who work tirelessly on the ground to provide vaccinations and education on polio eradication are being acknowledged by the humanitarians behind their endeavors. December 2015 saw the first ever HOPE (Heroes of Polio Eradication) Awards, co-chaired by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, distributed to those who have given their efforts to this endeavor to ensure no child falls ill with polio (http://www.khaleejtimes.com/nation/general/heroes-of-polio-eradication-to-be-honoured-in-abu-dhabi). While the awards will be ongoing, it is hoped that polio will be eradicated near enough in the future to have no more need of them.