Rodrigo Abd/AP
An Afghan mother waits in a clinic for a polio vaccination for her child in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Gates Foundation Part of a $630 Million Contribution to Fight Polio

January 22, 2009 01:01 PM
by Lindsey Chapman
An international network that includes the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation hopes to wipe out polio through child immunization.

Gates Foundation on Board in Polio Fight

From 1998 to 2008, coordinated international efforts have helped reduce the incidence of polio by 99 percent. But Reuters has reported that the virus is still endemic in countries like Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan and India, which places other countries at risk. 

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the governments of Britain and Germany, and the Rotary International Charity have agreed to contribute more than $630 million during the next five years to help immunize children against the disease. Their combined donations will become part of an effort by global leaders to “make polio the next disease to be eliminated worldwide.”

An “anti-polio effort” led by UNICEF and the World Health Organization has consumed $6.1 billion during the last 20 years, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune. The $630 million in new donations will become a part of that effort, but the campaign will still fall $335 million short in funding over the next two years.

In 2008, the number of children infected with polio was more than three times greater than the number of cases reported in 2001, causing some health officials to question whether the condition can be eliminated.

“We are at a crossroads … and we need to invest more in time and money,” the Union-Tribune quoted Bill Gates as saying. “If we don’t do this, we would lose all of the investment we’ve made in the past and the disease would grow back in large numbers.”

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Key Player: Polio

Polio is a viral illness that can cause paralysis, problems breathing and death. “During the first half of the 20th century, no illness inspired more dread and panic in the United States than did polio,” writes the Mayo Clinic. Mass immunization against polio took place in the 1950s, and by 1979, “the last case of wild polio—polio caused naturally, not by a vaccine containing live virus—occurred in the U.S.”

Because many parents today have changed their stance on vaccinations, some illnesses are making a comeback around the United States. There is an ongoing debate over whether vaccination is linked to autism.

Related Topic: Gates Foundation contributions to malaria effort

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has contributed millions of dollars to help protect people against malaria. In 2005, ABC News wrote, “Globally, the death rate is equal to seven jumbo jets, full of children, crashing every day.” That illustration works out to at least 1 million people dying and 300 million to 500 million people becoming sick each year from malaria. Bill and Melinda Gates pledged $258.3 million that year, in addition to pledges from prior years, to help control and prevent the condition.

In 2008, the Gates Foundation announced at the UN Millennium Development Goals Malaria Summit that it would give $168.7 million to the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI). With the help of GlaxoSmithKine Biologicals, MVI hopes to create “the first-ever approved malaria vaccine.”

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