Last year at the World Economic Forum, Bill and Melinda Gates called for the next ten years to be the decade of vaccines. This week as talks reconvene in Davos, Switzerland, Gates in partnership with the United Kingdom, has donated an additional $120 million dollars to fight polio in particular. This news comes in light of the Global Health Fund fraud accusations that Gates has $150 million invested in.
UK Prime Minister Cameron said in a statement:
I passionately believe that we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rid the world of the evil of polio. We have the vaccines and the tools to do it. All that's missing is real and sustained political will to see this effort through to the end. That's why I'm announcing today that the UK is prepared to fully vaccinate an additional 45 million children against polio, through a doubling of our support to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative over the next two years. In return for that commitment, we ask other donors to do their bit, and affected countries to strengthen their routine immunization programs. We have come so far in eradicating polio. We are so close to delivering a polio-free world for all our children. Let's finish the job. And let's eradicate polio once-and-for-all.
Poliomyelitis was first recognized as a distinct condition by Jakob Heine in 1840. Its causative agent, poliovirus, was identified in 1908 by Karl Landsteiner. Although major polio epidemics were unknown before the late 19th century, polio was one of the most dreaded childhood diseases of the 20th century. Polio epidemics have crippled thousands of people, mostly young children, and the disease has caused paralysis and death for much of human history. Polio had existed for thousands of years quietly as an endemic pathogen until the 1880s, when major epidemics began to occur in Europe. Soon after, widespread epidemics appeared in the United States and around the globe.
In 20 years, polio cases have been reduced by 99% and the disease is now close to being only the second in history since smallpox, to be wiped out. In 2010, India and Nigeria cut cases by 95% each. However, until eradicated, polio remains a threat to humanity everywhere.
The new contributions build on the progress to date in bringing polio close to eradication, due in no small part to the leadership of Rotary International. Both Mr. Cameron and Mr. Gates paid tribute in Switzerland to Rotarians, who will have contributed nearly US$ 1.1 billion to polio eradication.
Bill Gates is one of the best-known entrepreneurs of the personal computer revolution. Although he is admired by many, a number of industry insiders criticize his business tactics, which they consider anti-competitive, an opinion which has in some cases been upheld by the courts. In the later stages of his career, Gates has pursued a number of philanthropic endeavors, donating large amounts of money to various charitable organizations and scientific research programs through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, established in 2000.
Eliminating the last 1% of polio requires the kind of political leadership shown by the UK government and Prime Minister Cameron today. Eradicating polio requires innovative thinking and political will, as well as funding from a range of donors, to support an aggressive program that will get the job done.
Andrew Mitchell, Secretary of State for International Development in the United Kingdom, said:
Britain is at the forefront of the fight against polio. We have already provided funding for 1.2 billion doses of polio vaccine for children over the past two years and our increased commitment means many millions more will be protected from this terrible disease. The ultimate goal of full eradication can only be achieved if other countries and organizations play their part and release funds.
Dr Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organization, which leads the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) added:
These new investments come at a critical time in the fight against polio. We have a window of opportunity now, with cases at an all time low. But if there is polio anywhere we are at risk of polio everywhere. Only eradication will ensure that polio does not reemerge as a global threat.
The newly announced funding will help the GPEI purchase vaccines and conduct immunization activities. More than three billion doses of oral polio vaccine will be needed to immunize children.
Vaccine partners from across the world are coming together to define a Global Vaccine Action Plan to guide the discovery, development and delivery of lifesaving vaccines over the next decade.