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Ottawa commits $250-million funding for polio eradication

A Somali baby receives a polio vaccine, at the Medina Maternal Child Health Center in Mogadishu, Somalia Wednesday, April 24, 2013.

Ben Curtis/AP

Ottawa says it will boost its funding for global polio eradication efforts with a $250-million commitment over the next six years, aimed at eliminating the disease from every country by 2018.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative says it wants wipe out new occurrences of polio by 2018. The highly infectious disease usually strikes children under 5 and can cause paralysis and death. It has been eliminated in all but a few parts of the world.

Speaking at the International Vaccine Summit in Abu Dhabi on Thursday morning, International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino said Canada will contribute the first $20-million in funding to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

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"We will continue to work with our Canadian and international partners to allocate the remainder of the pledge and find ways to leverage further private investments," Mr. Fantino said in remarks that were prepared in advance of the announcement.

He added that eradicating polio has been "more difficult than we originally expected," in part because the last of the cases are in remote and difficult-to-access areas of the world. Polio workers have also been attacked in some places, he noted. Last December, one police officer was killed and another was wounded while helping to guard an immunization site in Pakistan.

A little more than 200 cases were reported in 2012, and polio is considered to be endemic in just three remaining countries: Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. The infection is caused by a virus that enters through the throat or digestive system and attacks the nervous system. It can cause irreversible paralysis or death in some cases.

The World Health Organization says that if transmission in those countries is not stopped, the disease could spread quickly to other regions where it had previously been eliminated.

Sabina Saini, executive director of Results Canada, said her organization has been working with the World Health Organization and a number of other Canadian groups to try to persuade Ottawa to increase its contribution to polio eradication efforts. "We literally are on the brink of eliminating this really debilitating disease once and for all," she said.

Canada has typically contributed between $30-million and $35-million to polio-related work each year, and the additional money works out to about an $11-million increase, per year, over a six-year period, according to Ms. Saini.

The injection of money to fight polio will also strengthen health systems in developing countries and help them roll out other life-saving immunizations, Ms. Saini said. "Polio is part of this routine immunization piece, but also, it just helps to build that infrastructure to ensure that other vaccines can also be implemented."

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