Bill Gates, others pledge $4bn to beat polio

World leaders and private donors on Thursday raised $4bn for a global six-year plan to fight polio, pledging close to three-quarters of the money needed to eradicate the crippling disease.

Canada and Britain were among the donor countries, pledging $250m and $462m respectively. A further $335m in funding was raised by private donors including Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia’s Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and Indonesian businessman Tahir. Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates said his foundation would commit $1.8b to support the six-year plan, which aims to wipe out polio from its last remaining strongholds in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. “After millennium battling polio, this plan puts us within sight of the endgame,” said Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organisation. “We have new knowledge about the polioviruses, new technologies and new tactics to reach the most vulnerable communities.” Polio is a virus that attacks the nervous system and can cause paralysis. It affects mainly children under the age of 5. As recently as 1988, the disease affected 125 countries worldwide, attacking 350,000 people each year. Today, the virus has been beaten back into just three: Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. The number of polio cases has been reduced by 99 percent in the past two decades and the disease is now close to being only the second in history – after smallpox - to be wiped out. GPEI calculates that eradicating polio could save the global economy between $40bn and $50bn in reduced treatment costs and improved productivity. GPEI's six-year plan was unveiled at the Global Vaccine summit, a meeting of global leaders, health experts and business chiefs in Abu Dhabi. It builds on lessons learned from eradicating polio in India, particularly in delivering vaccines to children in rural and tribal areas. “Ending polio will not only be a historic feat for humanity, but also a huge part of our efforts to reach every hard-to-reach child with a range of live-saving vaccines,” said Anthony Lake, chief executive of Unicef. Other countries to commit funds include Nigeria, which pledged to commit $30m to its own efforts to eradicate polio. Norway is also expected to add a further $240m to the pot.