Bill Gates delighted as UK pledges £100m in fight to make polio history

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Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates has hailed a "fantastic" pledge from the UK, which leads a final global push to eradicate polio.

International Development Secretary Priti Patel has unveiled an additional £100 million of support for worldwide efforts to tackle the disease.

The package will help immunise up to 45 million children against polio each year until 2020 - when it is hoped the world could be declared polio-free.

Mr Gates, the Microsoft co-founder and chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said: "It's fantastic to see such a generous pledge from the UK to the global effort to eradicate polio.

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"With the steadfast commitment of key partners like the UK Government and dedicated health care workers around the world, we are very close to ending polio forever.

"Thanks to the generosity of the British public, children everywhere can live healthier, more prosperous lives and thrive in a polio-free world."

Polio was wiped out in the UK in the 1980s and there are currently more than 100,000 British survivors of polio.

Globally, the wild poliovirus still exists in Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan, with eight new cases this year.

The UK's new funding is expected to vaccinate the equivalent of 80 children every minute, saving 65,000 children from paralysis each year.

Administered through the World Health Organisation (WHO), the support should help more than 15,000 polio workers reach every last child at risk, and save healthcare systems across the globe almost £2 billion in treating polio victims.

Ms 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.

"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."

The Government says there is still a funding shortfall of around £130 million to achieve the £1.1 billion global investment needed to end polio once and for all.

British paralympian and broadcaster Ade Adepitan, who contracted polio as a baby, said: "The UK has always been a world leader - it can be part of our legacy to be at the forefront of the race to eradicate polio around the world.

"Let's keep doing what we are doing and make the world a better place for future generations.

"We are so close to eradicating polio. We need just one last push to make this disease history and change the world."