Battle against polio

Bill Gates's plea: help me save four million lives

Bill Gates hails breakthrough as he urges world leaders to back new vaccination drive

Polio could be eradicated in the next two to four years, the billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates predicted yesterday as he appealed to world leaders attending a global vaccine summit in London to commit extra funding to protect the world's poorest children.

If achieved, one of the most dreaded diseases of the 20th century, which crippled thousands of children in Britain and worldwide, could become the second to be consigned to the history books, after smallpox was eradicated in 1979.

Mr Gates was answering questions from the public in a phone-in organised by Save the Children in advance of today's summit meeting of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) which is seeking to raise an extra £2.3 billion to save four million lives over the next five years.

The extra cash is needed to fund two new vaccines which provide protection against pneumonia and diarrhoeal disease and have the potential to save one million lives a year.

David Cameron, who will host the summit, yesterday pledged to raise the UK's contribution to the alliance and defended the decision against critics within his own party, including Liam Fox, the Defence Secretary, who have argued that to raise overseas aid spending at a time of domestic austerity could lead to legal challenges.

"I don't believe it would be right to ignore the difference we can make, turn inwards solely to our own problems and effectively balance our books while breaking our promises to the world's poorest," Mr Cameron said. "Instead, we should step up, deliver on our promises to the world's poorest and help save millions of lives."

Even sceptics about the value of aid admit that vaccination is one of the best and most cost-effective ways of protecting children. It is estimated that the lives of 20 million children have been saved over the past two decades. Mr Gates, who will address today's summit, has pledged $10bn (£6.3 bn) of his personal fortune to what he has termed the "decade of vaccines." But he knows that persuading parents of the benefits of vaccination is difficult in the face of cultural opposition, scares about vaccine safety and when the only "gain" is the absence of disease.

The polio virus was identified in 1840. Major epidemics began to occur in Europe in the 1880s, spreading later to the US and the rest of the world, sparking a race to develop a vaccine. Success came in the 1950s and polio started to decline. Three decades later the World Health Organisation, emboldened by its victory over smallpox, announced a global effort to eradicate the disease in 1988. By 2000 only a few hundred cases were occurring each year worldwide and today the disease is endemic in just four countries – India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. But the virus has so far defied all attempts to eradicate it. Mr Gates described how in India an "unbelievable effort" had been made to reach out to the poorest families to ensure they were protected. "There has been only one case [of polio] in India this year – and that looked like the most difficult country to overcome the disease," he said

Nigeria had been on the brink of eradication in 2003, he said, when a rumour spread that the vaccination caused sterility in women and was part of a plot to eliminate Muslims. "Leaders spoke out and we got a turn around – but [a scare like] this is a problem we are always worried about," he said.

After polio, malaria could be the next disease in the global vaccine community's sights. A vaccine providing 60 per cent protection is in final trials and there was a "realistic" prospect of its being available within three years.

"Then we will have to raise more money to make sure every kid gets it," Mr Gates added, signalling another challenge for GAVI.

GAVI is a vaccine-buying alliance representing governments, the pharmaceutical industry and organisations such as Unicef. It is estimated to have enabled the vaccination of 288 million children in the decade since it was established, and averted five million deaths, by speeding access to the jabs and persuading drugs companies to lower prices for poor countries.

Countries with most unvaccinated children

India         9,107,580
Nigeria      3,526,980
Pakistan      810,450
Indonesia    751,320
Congo         673,900
Ethiopia       657,720
China         548,820
Uganda       540,720
Chad         391,160
Kenya         382,500

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific