Rotary International, Gates Foundation Reach Polio Milestone in Africa

Last year, Rotary International made a huge donation of $75 million toward polio eradication efforts, focusing its fight in Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan. The Gates Foundation agreed to make a one-to-one match for every dollar Rotary International committed to meet its 2018 eradication deadline. Although the money included efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Nigeria was the main region of focus here.

At the time, even the “impatient optimist” Bill Gates noted some trepidation in the organizations’ abilities to reach its polio eradication goals in all three countries, saying,

Nigeria and Pakistan are going to be tough. The Pakistan violence is evil. The truth is the vaccine is to help kids. And spreading rumors and attacking the workers on this—those people don’t have justice and truth on their side.

Rotary International has been making a big push to end polio for some time now, and had set a 2018 deadline to do so. The Gates Foundation has also shared the same polio eradication goal, but didn’t necessarily give itself a deadline to do so. Deadlines or no, both organizations are celebrating a hard fought victory as Nigeria is on track for removal from the World Health Organization’s polio endemic list later this summer.

Until now, polio had been eradicated in every country in Africa except Nigeria. If Nigeria—which hasn’t had a single case of the disease for one year—remains polio free until its removal from the WHO endemic list, it will set Africa on the track to be officially declared polio-free in three years.

Ridding Nigeria of polio is definitely a huge step in the right direction, but Tunji Funsho, Rotary International’s National PolioPlus Committee chair for Nigeria, is cautiously optimistic, saying, “It is too soon to celebrate. The world needs to keep polio eradication a high priority to ensure the disease does not return to our borders.”

Rotary International has been marching toward polio eradication since the late 1980s. Since then, it has committed over $1 billion toward the fight and picked up some pretty heavy-hitting partners along the way, including the Gates Foundation, the WHO, and UNICEF.

The Gates Foundation really began ramping up its polio eradication work in 2013, but has contributed to the fight since 1999. That year, the foundation awarded a $50 million grant to the United Nations Foundation to support polio eradication efforts in Indian sub-continent and sub-Saharan Africa. Since then, Gates has awarded over $3.3 billion in polio-related grants.