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Gates seeks $1.5 billion more to eradicate polio by 2018

By Stefania Bianchi
Bloomberg News

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates Bill Gates, chairman and co-founder of Microsoft Corp., is seeking a further $1.5 billion in donations to wipe out polio by 2018 and make it the first infectious disease eradicated since smallpox was wiped from the planet in 1979.

The billionaire, who is contributing about $1.8 billion to the cause through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is pressing rich nations to donate to the $5.5 billion Polio Eradication & Endgame Strategic Plan 2013-2018 to globally eradicate the disease over the next six years.

“We’ve raised three-quarters of that money so far,” Gates said in an interview Wednesday in Abu Dhabi where global leaders, health experts and business leaders are gathering for the first Global Vaccine Summit. “We’ve got to double down and finish the eradication.”

Polio cases plunged to 223 last year, the lowest level ever, and there have been 19 cases so far in 2013, according to a statement from the summit. Only three countries now have polio transmission: Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. India, long regarded as the nation facing the greatest challenge to end polio, was declared free of the disease in February 2012.

About 60 percent of the funds raised have come from governments, Gates said. The rest was given by philanthropists such as Saudi Arabia’s Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, the largest individual investor in Citigroup Inc., who announced a $30 million donation. Gates’s foundation will commit one-third of the total cost of the GPEI’s budget over the plan’s six-year implementation, he said.

“We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation already invented it,” Alwaleed said in an interview Wednesday. “It’s a very a good cause, and everyone should chip in.”

Polio virus can spread as a result of poor sanitation and hygiene.

Millions of people were paralyzed by the disease in the 20th century before vaccines became widely available in the 1950s.

Sanitation improvements and routine immunization have helped eradicate the disease from many countries.

The six-year program was developed by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, which is led by national governments, the World Health Organization, Rotary International, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and UNICEF, and supported by partners including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

While challenges remain to erase polio from Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, Gates said this can be achieved with the help of donors such as Alwaleed.

“We’re both businessmen who invest when we can see impact, whether it’s on the profit side investing in a good company or in a program that’s destined to be a big success,” he said.

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