Gates Foundation pledges $1.2 billion to polio eradication


The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced Sunday it will donate US$1.2 billion to help eradicate wild polio in the two remaining countries—Pakistan and Afghanistan—where the virus is endemic and prevent new strains of the virus from emerging, months after New York reported its first vaccine-derived polio case in nearly a decade.

Bill Gates | Photo by YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Big Number: 370 million. That’s how many children GPEI hopes to vaccinate against polio every year from 2022 to 2026, the Gates Foundation said Sunday.

The ten-figure donation comes after samples of poliovirus were found in both the state of New York and London, leading officials to monitor for cases and ramp up calls for vaccination. The cases are believed to be from vaccine-derived polio: People who are vaccinated with live poliovirus can shed it in their stool, where it can spread through wastewater, mutate and then infect others who come into contact.

New York declared an emergency last month after the virus was found in a fourth county in addition to New York City, and the state began monitoring wastewater after a vaccine-derived case of polio caused paralysis in a 20-year-old unvaccinated man in Rockland County.

Many of the New York counties where the virus has been found have polio vaccination rates well below the national average. In London, health officials announced a new vaccination campaign in August to help boost coverage in children under 10, after vaccine-derived poliovirus was detected in wastewater from North and East London for the first time in decades.

Polio is a contagious disease transmitted mostly through contact with fecal samples and occasionally coughing and sneezing.

Before the polio vaccine was developed in 1955, around 15,000 people in the U.S. developed paralysis from the illness every year, according to the CDC. Poliovirus has been eliminated in many countries worldwide as a result of mass vaccination campaigns, including GPEI, which was launched in 1988 and is one of the largest worldwide public health initiatives in history. However, the virus still circulates in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where political instability and prolonged conflict have impeded vaccination campaigns.

As of 2021, about 75% of Afghan children ages 12 to 23 months had been fully vaccinated against polio, while 83% had been vaccinated in Pakistan, according to UNICEF. The Gates Foundation has donated nearly $5 billion to the GPEI initiative in the past, while governments in high-income countries and other nonprofits have also contributed.

Bill Gates told Forbes last month he plans to wrap up the foundation he co-chairs with Melinda in 25 years, explaining that “spending all the money in that timeframe makes sense.” During that time, he said he hopes to “try and bring infectious disease, or all of the diseases that make the world inequitable,” to an end, either through “eradication or getting them down to very low levels.”

The news came after Gates announced in July he had made a $20 billion donation to the foundation. He said he plans to keep giving until he is no longer a billionaire.

Forbes Valuation

Gates—who made his fortune by co-founding Microsoft—is worth $99.8 billion, according to Forbes’ real-time estimates, making him the fifth richest person in the world. His ex-wife, Melinda French Gates, is worth $6.1 billion.

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Gates Pledges $1.2 Billion to Speed End of Crippling Poliovirus (Bloomberg)

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