Bill Gates, the Microsoft founder and world’s leading philanthropist, has donated $1.8bn (£1.1bn) to fight polio.
At the Global Vaccine Summit in Abu Dhabi, the donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was announced as part of a six-year plan to eradicate all types of polio. Mr Gates, 57, who has said his “all-time favourite” statistic is a chart showing that annual mortality rates for under-fives has fallen from 20 million children to 6.9 million in his lifetime, said humanity was on the verge of doing “something we’ve never been able to do before”.
The couple have led the way for billionaire philanthropy since 2000 when they announced they would donate almost all of their $67bn fortune to charitable causes. And the $37bn they have given away so far has thrust them to the forefront of the world’s givers.
But a global end to polio has been a long time in the making, having been promised since 1988 when the goal was laid down. Then some 350,000 children in 125 countries were paralysed by the disease every year. Today there only remain three countries where the disease is endemic – Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria – and just 19 cases have been reported this year.
Mr Gates said: “This isn’t just a polio eradication plan, it’s a global immunisation plan with the goal of ending polio while improving efforts to protect all children, including the most vulnerable, with life-saving vaccines.”