UK Government

Department For International Development: Embargo 00:01 hrs 30th December 2009: UKaid supports new vaccine to eradicate polio

Press Release   •   Dec 30, 2009 10:18 GMT

A pioneering new vaccine that provides more effective protection against the two remaining strains of polio is being used for the first time in the world in Southern Afghanistan, International Development Minister Mike Foster, announced today.

The new 'Bivalent' OPV vaccine (bOPV) has been developed over the last twelve months by the World Health Organisation, with the support of funding from the UK's Department for International Development.

A clinical trial that compared bOPV with the traditional oral poliovirus vaccine found that for both types 1 and 3 polio, bOPV was at least 30% more effective.  The new bOPV vaccine delivers the benefits of both in one package.

This will vastly simplify and potentially accelerate vaccination and eradication efforts in war-ravaged countries like Afghanistan as well as in countries with weak health systems, such as in sub-Saharan Africa.

In addition, experts recently concluded that bOPV provides the most effective protection possible for young children against the two surviving strains (types 1 and 3) of the poliovirus.

The roll-out of the bOPV is part of DFID's new £100 million drive to tackle polio over the next five years. Today, DFID released £23 million as part of that funding package to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative to deliver:

* National immunisation days to reach every child under the age of five years, in countries with ongoing polio or at high risk of spread from polio infected countries;

* Supplemental 'mop-up' vaccination campaigns focussed on children in high risk areas with persistent poliovirus;

* Research into new vaccines and ways to ensure they are available to vulnerable children; and

* Monitoring activities to detect cases of polio so that progress can be measured and outbreaks contained.

Since DFID began its new funding to the eradication initiative in January 2009, UKaid has helped to vaccinate 350 million children, some of them more than once, improved the training of staff to carry out the vaccinations, and helped develop approaches to overcome the challenges faced in reaching children in the last polio-infected areas of the world.

It has also led to a fall in the number of new polio cases in India, which have dropped by a staggering 75 per cent and a 90% reduction of the most dangerous type of polio in northern Nigeria.

Today's instalment of funding will help to train more staff and vaccinate a further 120 million children under the age of five years.

International Development Minister, Mike Foster, said:

"Polio has been one of the most devastating and deadliest of childhood diseases, but our efforts to eradicate it have yielded success. New infections have been reduced by over 99 per cent and 350 million children have been vaccinated against the disease in this year alone.

"UKaid is now supporting the delivery of this new vaccine which could finally end polio once and for all."

The UK is the second largest government donor to The Global Polio Eradication Initiative which has reduced cases of polio by over 99% in the last two decades.

Only four countries remain endemic - Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India - compared to 125 in 1988. The number of new cases of polio has been reduced from 350,000 in 1988 to 1,600 in 2008.

In the first quarter of next year, bOPV will be rolled out in Nigeria, India and much of west Africa.

Notes to editors:

1. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative was launched in 1988, and reduced the number of polio cases by 99 per cent over the past 21 years, from 350,000 in 1988 to 1,600 in 2008.

2. DFID's current contribution to GPEI started in the 2008-2009 financial year, with a pledge of £22m.

3. The production of the bOPV vaccine was the result of a collaboration between the World Health Organization, UNICEF and vaccine manufacturers, under the oversight of national regulatory agencies and backed by donor funding.

For further information please call the DFID press office, on 0207 023 0600.

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