Several world governments and philanthropists pledged $2.6 billion towards funding a worldwide polio eradication plan that has taken decades to reach what global health specialists say is now the “last mile”. The total amount required is $3.27 billion to support the Polio Endgame Strategy.
The funding, which included $1.08 from the Gates Foundation, will be used to immunise 450 million children against polio each year.
The event, attended by global leaders, was co-hosted by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and was held at the magnificent Louvre, the largest art and civilisation museum in the Arabian Peninsula built in collaboration with the French Louvre. The meeting was organised to express support in a tangible manner towards polio eradication through the forum titled Reaching the Last Mile.
“It was a solemn one-day event open to only invitees and sans any frills such as entertainment and other diversions. It focused attention solely on the subject the whole day, with authoritative presentations and discussions by global experts on fields related to healthcare and polio,” said PRIP and Chair Elect of The Rotary Foundation K R Ravindran. He led the RI delegation at the event and was accompanied by IPPC Chair Mike McGovern and member Judith Diment, and Polio Director Carol Pandak.
The “much-awaited pledging moment had world leaders pledging a total sum of $2.6 billion,” he added. Apart from the Gates Foundation’s pledge of $1.08 billion, Sheik Zayed pledged $160 million. “Other large sums came from the UK government pledging $514.8 million and the US government $215.92 million. Rotary advocacy played a major role in persuading several governments to support the cause and pledge funds,” Ravindran told Rotary News.
Bill Gates endorses Rotary’s polio battle
The principal role played by Rotary in the End Polio initiative was endorsed by none less than Bill Gates in an interview to Forbes magazine where he was hailed as “both chief funder and fundraiser” for polio. Crediting Rotary International for leading the effort at fundraising internationally for ending polio, Gates said, “In almost every country, Rotary has members. And that’s very, very helpful to us. Those members have this commitment that goes all the way back to 1988, well before the Gates Foundation had any involvement in the polio fight.” Rotarians in India, Pakistan, Australia, Canada, United States and the United Kingdom, in particular, had been “effective in writing to and showing up to speak to their political leaders. And in those first few years, of course, things went really well and people thought we were getting close. So, it’s great they’ve stuck to it, even as it’s proven to take longer than we first expected.”
Making a pledge of $150 million on behalf of RI, Ravindran said, “As a spearheading partner of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, Rotary has been working to eradicate polio for over 30 years. Rotarians around the world have contributed more than $2 billion to immunise more than 2.5 billion children in 122 countries. On behalf of all Rotarians, I am thrilled to announce our continued, unwavering support and pledge an additional $150 million to the polio eradication effort.”
Earlier, Dr Robert Ray Redfield Jr, Director of the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, speaking on behalf of the US government, paid a glowing tribute to Rotary when he said, “In 1985, Rotary International committed to see every child in the world vaccinated against polio and to ushering in a polio-free era. It saw the possible and led the world on a quest to eradicate polio. They believed they could make a meaningful impact on the human condition. For them, this was not an aspirational goal. This was a mindset — a trusted belief that this will get done.”
Apart from participating in this important event, Ravindran and his team had several discussions on the challenges ahead with teams from the Gates Foundation, the Director General of WHO, the Health Ministers of Pakistan (whose government has pledged a sum of $160 million for The Last Mile) and Afghanistan and representatives of Germany, Canada and Australia.
In almost every country, Rotary has members which is very helpful. Those members have a commitment going all the way back to 1988, well before the Gates Foundation had any involvement in the polio fight.
— Microsoft Founder Bill Gates
The WHO had earlier announced that the second of the three types of the polio virus had been eradicated globally. In a press note, it said that while global polio cases have been cut by over 99 per cent, since 1988, when 350,000 cases a year were being found, the Type 1 polio virus is still endemic in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where it has infected 102 people this year. This is an increase over the record low global annual figure of 22 cases in 2017.
Nigeria — the last country in Africa to have cases of wild polio — has not seen wild polio since 2016 and the entire African region could be certified wild polio-free in 2020.
“From supporting one of the world’s largest health workforces, to reaching every last child with vaccines, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative is not only moving us closer to a polio-free world, it’s also building essential health infrastructure to address a range of other health needs,” said WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Quoting his countryman and Ethiopia’s champion marathon runner Abebe Bikila, he said at the Abu Dhabi event, that as in a marathon the last mile was always the most difficult one, this was true of polio as well and “we are on that last mile.”
“We are proud to host the GPEI pledging moment in Abu Dhabi and thank all the attendees for their continued commitment to the eradication of polio,” said Reem Al Hashimy, UAE Minister of State for International Cooperation. “Since launching in 2014, the Emirates Polio Campaign has delivered more than 430 million polio vaccines in some of the most remote areas of Pakistan. We remain firm in our mission to reach every last child and believe together we can consign polio to the pages of history.”