Technology & Science

Canada's global polio funding declines

Canada has significantly lowered its contributions to the global effort to eradicate polio, says the president of Rotary International, one of the partners in the polio eradication program.

Canada has significantly lowered its contributions to the global effort to eradicate polio since the Conservative government took power, says the president of Rotary International, one of the partners in the polio eradication program.

Wilf Wilkinson said that as a consequence Canada is not meeting the commitment the previous government set when it persuaded G8 nations to sustain or increase funding levels for the eradication effort for 2006 through 2008, a pledge made at the 2005 G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland.

"I don't think that they've given enough. I don't think they've kept their commitments," Wilkinson, a Canadian, said in an interview.

"Canada has slowed down quite dramatically since the change in government."

Jo-Ann Purcell, a spokeswoman for the Canadian International Development Agency, insisted Wednesday that Canada remains "strongly committed" to polio eradication.

But she noted the timeline for eradication has been extended, because of the resurgence of polio in some countries and the persistence of it in others.

"Eradicating polio is going to take longer than we thought," Purcell said via e-mail. "Accordingly, we had to spread the existing money over a longer period of time, thus lowering the annual amount."

Gleneagles promise at stake

It's not clear whether that is an acknowledgment the Harper government will renege on the Gleneagles promise, made by former Prime Minister Paul Martin. At Gleneagles, G8 leaders promised that for the period from 2006 to 2008 they would meet or exceed the contributions they'd made in the period from 2003 to 2005.

Purcell did not respond Wednesday to a request for clarification.

Her e-mail did say, though, that the government is looking at "available funds, and working with our international partners to look at next steps."

The slowing of funds comes at a time when the 20-year-old campaign to snuff out polio is in a critical phase, with program leaders insisting the goal of halting transmission of the most troublesome strain of polio Type 1 viruses by the end of this calendar year is within reach.

It also comes at a time when the program faces a significant funding gap, with projected needs for 2008-09 exceeding funding commitments by a whopping $525 million. (All figures cited by the program are listed in U.S. dollar amounts.)

Funding always a challenge: WHO

The World Health Organization's senior official responsible for polio, Dr. David Heymann, admitted finding the cash to finish the job now eight years over schedule isn't easy.

"It's a big challenge to get money, always," said Heymann, who is WHO's special representative for polio eradication. "It's a competitive environment out there for funding. But we'll get there."

The campaign to end polio transmission began in 1988 as a partnership of the WHO, Rotary International, UNICEF and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

The original goal was to complete the task by the year 2000, a deadline that was later pushed back to 2005. But that goal was missed as well when the effort faced a major setback in northern Nigeria. Muslim clerics denounced the polio vaccine as part of a plot to render Muslim girls infertile, leading many parents to refuse to vaccinate their children.

Since 1988, Canada has contributed $205.68 million to the effort. And just over half that nearly $106 million was contributed during the period from 2003 through 2005.

If Canada plans to meet the Gleneagles commitment, it would need to spend as much or more for the period from 2006 through the end of this year. But so far, it has committed just under $70 million, or 66 per cent of the promised amount.