To view the article in The Times please click here.
Please see the full text below.
Polio vaccine can guide our fight against coronavirus
We often think of infectious diseases in developed countries, such as Britain, as historical but this year the coronavirus pandemic has brought into stark relief the devastating effect that viruses can have on people’s lives. World Polio Day today is a timely reminder that effective vaccination programmes work, so I welcome the business secretary Alok Sharma’s announcement earlier this week of additional government funding to accelerate the development of a Covid-19 vaccine.
Thanks to a vaccine, polio was eradicated in the UK more than 30 years ago, yet there are still 100,000 people in Britain who have been affected by the polio virus, including Mary Berry, who caught the disease as a girl. For that generation, the case for helping to eliminate polio is obvious. Supporting the polio vaccine plays a vital part in global Britain’s commitment to being a force for good in the world.
Polio prevention demonstrates how UK Aid can make a real difference — how it can literally save lives. The UK is at the forefront of the global fight to eradicate this disease once and for all. In 1988 at least 70 million people worldwide were infected with polio and more than 350,000 people developed paralytic polio. Through the UK government’s generous financial support for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), in 2018 there were only 33 cases of polio worldwide. This represents millions of people who have been saved from the perils of polio by one simple vaccine.
In combating deadly diseases, we are only as strong as our weakest healthcare system. Global co-operation was needed to fight polio and combating coronavirus should not happen in isolation. It is vital that we continue to tackle all diseases by strengthening countries’ healthcare provision. The UK should be proud of its leadership in this area: the prime minister hosted the Coronavirus Global Response Summit in May, Britain was a founding member of Gavi (the vaccine alliance) and we are continuing to champion access to vaccines.
The government’s investments in GPEI have also helped to fund vital health infrastructure, such as disease surveillance systems and skilled healthcare workers. GPEI infrastructure helped to detect ebola in West Africa and it tracks the spread of coronavirus, helping to keep us all safer. In August it was announced that Africa is now free from wild polio, a vital step towards the global eradication of polio.
Polio prevention over the past 70 years has proved that we can eradicate life-threatening diseases through effective vaccination programmes. So, let us build upon the great work by organisations, including Rotary International, and the tireless efforts of campaigners in Stafford and throughout Britain to tackle polio and use the lessons we have learnt to combat coronavirus.
We should be proud that UK government support is helping to vaccinate more than 750 children every minute in developing countries against polio. We must remember that diseases do not respect borders. We should act now to strengthen healthcare systems and invest in vaccination programmes across the world. By working together and learning from the successful polio vaccine, hopefully we can consign other deadly diseases, including coronavirus, to the history books and save many more millions of lives.
Theo Clarke is the Conservative MP for Stafford