In 1988, the World Health Assembly launched the Global Polio Eradication Initiative or GPEI. At the time, the wild poliovirus was present in over 125 countries. The virus paralyzed some 350,000 people each year, most of them young children.
Fast-forward a few decades to 2017, and amazingly, there have only been five cases of polio in the year to date. The virus has been eliminated in all but three countries: Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. Until polio is eradicated, children all around the world are at risk.
GPEI, along with other key players, has managed to reduce global polio cases by more than 99% since 1988. However, the long march toward eradication isn’t over yet, and there's always a risk that the gains made over the decades may be eroded. Recently, top players in the polio fight came together to make a global pledge of $1.2 billion to ensure that the drive toward eradication remains on track.
Two very familiar names are at the top of that $1.2 billion funding list: Rotary International and the Gates Foundation. Rotary International has been supporting polio eradication since the late 1980s. Since then—and with the help of the Gates Foundation—it has committed $1.6 billion to rid the world of polio. Since 2013, Gates has matched every $1 Rotary pledge by two to one for up to $35 million per year.
The Gates Foundation has been grantmaking on polio since it started in the late 1990s, beginning with a $50 million grant to the United Nations Foundation. Over nearly two decades, Gates has remained steadfast in its global polio elimination plan, which calls for accelerating “targeted vaccination campaigns, community mobilization, and routine immunizations.” The foundation is also collaborating with like-minded organizations to improve polio surveillance and outbreak response endeavors.
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As for this latest promise, Gates and Rotary are demonstrating once again that there is power in numbers as they join forces for an up to $450 million commitment to support polio eradication efforts around the world as part of the larger global pledge. In what is being called an “expanded agreement” of the matching scheme already in place between the two organizations, Gates has pledged to match every $1 Rotary raises two to one over the next three years. Rotary has committed to raising $50 million per year during that time, resulting in the total $450 million total pledge. The funds will be allocated to a number of polio eradication actions such as immunizations and increased surveillance.
In addition to Gates and Rotary, world nations have stepped up to the funding plate in a big way, too. Other major pledges include $223 million from the United States, $75 million from Canada, $61.4 million from the European Commission, $55 million from Japan, $30 million from Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, and $25 million from Bloomberg Philanthropies.
The total $1.2 billion in pledges nearly closes the current $1.5 billion funding gap on polio that experts have identified.