The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on Sunday announced a $1.2 billion commitment to aid an effort to eliminate polio worldwide. The disease is endemic in Pakistan and Afghanistan and there have been recent outbreaks in New York, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere.
The foundation made the pledge at the World Health Summit being held in Berlin. The funds will support the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), which is driving the Polio Eradication Strategy 2022-2026. Seattle-based Gates Foundation has already contributed nearly $5 billion to GPEI.
Polio can cause lifelong paralysis and death. The highly contagious virus spreads through person-to-person contact via the droplets from an infected person’s sneeze or cough or from their stool.
“Polio eradication is within reach. But as far as we have come, the disease remains a threat. Working together, the world can end this disease,” said Bill Gates, co-chair of the foundation, in a statement.
The GPEI is calling for $4.8 billion in funding, which will pay for the vaccinations of 370 million children each year and boost other healthcare services.
“Polio workers have been especially vital in responding to COVID-19 and reaching communities about the importance of vaccination against preventable diseases,” said Melinda French Gates, the foundation’s other co-chair.
GPEI launched in 1988 when polio was found in more than 125 countries and caused the paralysis of 350,000 people annually — mostly young children.
Since that time, GPEI is credited for cutting polio cases by more than 99%. Reasons for continued spread include “interruptions in routine immunization, vaccine misinformation, political unrest, and the tragic floods in Pakistan in 2022,” according to the Gates Foundation.