Saudi Arabia pledges more than US$600m to help end polio and fight poverty

The money will support public, private, and philanthropic initiatives in and beyond the Arab region.

Saudi Arabia has announced a new partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) with major new funding commitments towards ending polio, fighting poverty, helping the Gaza relief effort, and strengthening the Kingdom’s nonprofit sector.

During April’s World Economic Forum (WEF) Special Meeting in Riyadh, the Gulf government pledged US$500million over the next five years to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GEPI), a public-private partnership led by national governments with six partners, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  

This is the largest multi-year pledge by a sovereign donor towards the current GPEI strategy, ensuring that essential health services are provided to hundreds of millions of children each year. The money will support the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF deliver polio vaccines for underserved populations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the final two countries where polio remains.

Saudi Arabia and the BMGF also pledged $3m and $15m (respectively) over three years towards the Polio Legacy Challenge, a results-based financing initiative, administered by the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) to help strengthen Afghanistan’s health systems and incentivise a continued focus on polio eradication.

“This global health investment will help strengthen and build more resilient health systems and communities, at a time of multiple crises around the world, said BMGF co-chair Bill Gates.

Speaking at the WEF meeting in Riyadh, he added: “Polio is a horrific disease that deserves to be in the history books once and for all. I am proud to see the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, together with partners across the Middle East, step up to help deliver more polio vaccines, measles immunisations, and other vital health services to millions of children every year.

image title
From second left: Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, World Health Organization (WHO), Geneva, Bill Gates BMGF co-chair; Mian Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif, Prime Minister of Pakistan; Fahad bin Abdurrahman Al-Jalajel, Minister of Health of Saudi Arabia; Abdullah Al Rabeeah, KS Relief; and Anita Zaidi, president of gender equality at BMGF. Photo: WEF

Saudi Arabia also used the WEF meeting to announce funding of $100m to the Lives and Livelihoods Fund (LLF), a joint venture of partners including the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD), the BMGF, the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), the King Salman Humanitarian Aid & Relief Center (KSrelief), and the Qatar Fund for Development (QFFD).

LLF, the Middle East’s largest multilateral development initiative, invests in strengthening primary health care, eliminating preventable infectious diseases, supporting smallholder farming and rural agriculture, and improving basic infrastructure across the IsDB’s 33 member states.

Retd more about the Lives and Livelihoods Fund

Created in 2015, The Lives and Livelihoods Fund (LLF) has has played an active role in breaking down the barriers that prevent individuals, organisations, and governments in the lowest-income countries from obtaining the resources they need to lift themselves out of poverty.

The second phase of the Lives and Livelihoods Fund (LLF 2.0) was launched last year on the sidelines of the IsDB Annual Meetings 2023, mobilising resources for five years from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Islamic Solidarity Fund for Development, the poverty alleviation arm of the Islamic Development Bank.

Aimed at supporting 33 member countries of the bank to achieve 10 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, the Islamic Solidarity Fund for Development committed resources of US $150 million, and the Gates Foundation announced its commitment to pledge 20% of the total granted by donors to the LLF, up to US $100 million.

Powered by an innovative blended finance model, the LLF has effectively mobilised US$30 for every $1 in donor grants. This approach has generated substantial concessional financing, catalysing a portfolio worth approximately US $1.4 billion, which spans 37 transformative projects in 22 countries.

The Lives and Livelihoods Fund (LLF) is a joint venture of partners including the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), the King Salman Humanitarian Aid & Relief Center (KSrelief), and the Qatar Fund for Development (QFFD),

BMGF said it would also be working with Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Health to ensure a safe and healthy Hajj pilgrimage by improving disease surveillance and testing, bringing safe and clean sanitation solutions to millions of Hajj pilgrims, and providing technical assistance to support Saudi Arabia’s vaccine manufacturing capabilities, with the aim of helping low- and middle-income countries access lower-cost vaccines.

With this new pledge, Saudi Arabia will serve as an early adopter country for the WHO Global Health Emergency Corps, contributing to global pandemic preparedness and response efforts.

To facilitate its work in Saudi Arabia, BMGF said it would be opening an office in Riyadh’s Mohammed Bin Salman Nonprofit City – - to support youth engagement and effectiveness of the third sector in partnership with the Misk Foundation (a nonprofit founded by Saudi’s Crown Prince, Mohammed Bin Salman bin Abdulaziz).

"This investment towards global health isn't just a good to have; it's a strategic imperative for a thriving, more resilient future together,” said Fahad bin Abdurrahman Al-Jalajel, Saudi minister of health.

“The world faces many health challenges, and it is part of our responsibility and leadership to contribute with our partners in bridging the gaps, and through concerted efforts, we will be able to alleviate the suffering of many people,” he said.

Dr Abdullah A. Al Rabeeah, supervisor general of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid & Relief Centre (KSrelief) added: “Together with our partners, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, the Islamic Development Bank and key countries across the region, our support will not only aim to end polio but to also strengthen health systems in these countries.”

KSrelief and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation also announced they would each be allocating $4m in the form of ahumanitarian relief grant to UNICEF to deliver health interventions and provide access to basic water and sanitation services for women and children in Gaza. - PA