ISLAMABAD - The United Kingdom has announced an additional $130 million to help end polio in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria, a British High Commission statement said yesterday.

The UK is leading the final global push to eliminate polio around the world for good, International Development Secretary Priti Patel said as she set out an additional ($130 million for anti-polio efforts for the three countries.

Polio was wiped out in the UK in the 1980s and there are more than 100,000 British survivors today. Globally, the wild poliovirus still exists in Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan, with eight new cases this year. Out of these, three cases were reported from Pakistan, said the statement.

Commenting on the announcement, the head of UK’s Department for International Development in Pakistan, Joanna Reid said: “2017 could be the year when Pakistan defeats polio.  DFID will help to give that final push but the credit goes to Pakistanis from all levels of society who continue to make commitments, spread the message and go door to door to vaccinate children.  They’ve done a great job already – not a single case has been reported from FATA (Federally Administrated Tribal Areas), one of the most challenging areas to reach.  Let’s go that last mile together.”

It is likely that the last new case of polio will be diagnosed this year, paving the way for the world to be certified polio-free in 2020.

Patel has announced UK support to lead the last push needed to end polio. This will immunise 45 million children against the disease each year until 2020 - that is 80 children a minute.

Britain has had a longstanding commitment to making polio the second human disease in history to be eradicated, after smallpox. As a direct result of the UK’s support to global efforts, which began in 1988, more than 16 million people are walking today who would have otherwise been paralysed, and the number of people contracting the disease has been reduced by 99.9 per cent, said the statement.

The UK’s support will immunise up to 45 million children against the disease each year until 2020 – that is 80 children a minute, save more than 65,000 children from paralysis every year, help over 15,000 polio workers reach every last child with life-saving vaccines and other health interventions and help save almost £2 billion globally by 2035, as health care systems are freed up from treating polio victims.

International Development Secretary Priti Patel said: “Polio has no place in the 21st Century. This devastating and highly infectious disease causes painful paralysis and is incurable – trapping the world’s poorest people in a cycle of grinding poverty. The UK has been at the forefront of fighting global health threats, including polio, and our last push towards eradication by 2020 will save 45 million children from contracting this disease.” She added: “The world is closer than it ever has been to eradicating polio for good, but as long as just one case exists in the world, children everywhere are still at risk. Now it is time for others to step up, follow Britain’s lead and make polio history.”

This last push will help break the relentless cycle of poverty for millions more children so they can live healthier lives, go to school and then get a job. It will mean more people contributing to their economy, which will help their countries to grow and become more prosperous.

Meanwhile yesterday, Acting US Deputy Chief of Mission Christina Tomlinson launched the Pakistan-US Alumni Network International Peace-building Conference, during which over 200 US exchange program alumni will discuss how to work towards international peace through community engagement. 

Joining the PUAN attendees are US exchange alumni from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nepal, and Turkey. The conference, developed by PUAN with support from the American Embassy, includes peace building sessions on youth engagement, new media, and citizen diplomacy, among other topics.

Tomlinson praised PUAN member and conference participant expertise in a wide range of fields related to community engagement and peace building.

“Peace building begins within your own communities,” she said, adding: “As teachers, students, journalists, activists, artists, government officials, and religious leaders, you each bring diverse experience and skills to the table. Throughout the conference, you will have opportunities to share perspectives and exchange practical recommendations to strengthen your communities.”

PUAN is an alumni network of students and professionals who have participated in U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs.  The US government invests more than $ 40 million annually on exchange programs for Pakistani citizens to visit and study in the United States.  With more than 22,000 alumni across Pakistan, PUAN is one of the largest alumni networks in the world, a US embassy statement said.

PUAN regularly organises events across Pakistan, including service projects, leadership training, roundtable discussions, and community engagement activities, it added.

Earlier, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs and Acting Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Ambassador Alice Wells visited Islamabad August 3 and 4 as part of her introductory trip to the region.

In Islamabad, she met with Foreign Minister Khawaja Mohammed Asif, Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Zubair Hayat. 

She also met with a group of Pakistani students and teachers who have participated in a US Department of State-funded two- year English-language course of study known as the Access Microscholarship program, said a US embassy statement.

In her meetings with Pakistan’s leaders, Ambassador Wells expressed appreciation for Pakistan’s significant sacrifices in the fight against terrorism. 

Noting the ongoing South Asia Policy Review, Ambassador Wells underscored the value of cooperation across a range of sectors and mutual interests, including security, trade, and the stability and security of Afghanistan.  She stressed that Pakistani soil must not be used to plan or conduct terrorist attacks against its neighbours.

She congratulated Pakistan on the upcoming 70th anniversary of its independence, noting the occasion also marked the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations and partnership between America and Pakistan.