Bill Gates: We cannot stand still on polio, but we can push ahead and end it

Through its judicious use of foreign aid, the UK has helped drive this recent progress

Related Topics

At Microsoft I learned that innovation is the most powerful force for change in the world. Today, I see that same excitement and promise in my work in philanthropy.

Thanks to the accelerating pace of innovation, we are making new discoveries to drive progress against poverty, hunger, and disease.

Consider the decline in childhood deaths. In 1955, the year I was born, more than 20 million children under the age of five died. In 2011, that number was 6.9 million.

One of the key reasons behind that amazing progress is the power of immunisation. Vaccines work to save lives and protect children for a lifetime.

Vaccines have also brought us to the threshold of eradicating polio. In 1988 when the world set the goal of eradication, 350,000 children in 125 countries were paralysed by this horrible disease every year. Last year, there were fewer than 250 cases of polio worldwide.

India's accomplishment in wiping out polio in the country in 2011 is the most impressive global health success I've ever seen. India has more than a billion people. Geographically, it is 15 times larger than the United Kingdom. It also features some of the most severe terrain and weather in the world.

The challenges in the remaining polio-endemic countries of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria are just as daunting. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, militants in some areas won't allow vaccinators access to children. In Nigeria, some parents refuse to let their children be vaccinated due to decades-old rumours. Even in the places where vaccinators can go, there is now the threat of violence. But these issues should only strengthen our resolve.

Through its judicious use of foreign aid, the United Kingdom has helped drive this recent history of progress. Getting rid of the final cases of polio is the hardest part. It is exactly the kind of courage the UK is showing in its ongoing commitment to tackling global poverty that allows us to plan for eradication.

The global health community has a detailed plan to finish the job. This plan says that if the world supplies the necessary funds and political commitment, we will certify the eradication of polio by 2018.

Why is it worth it? Polio doesn't kill as many people as AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria or rotavirus. It's not even close. So why should the world focus on eradicating it?

There is no such thing, first of all, as keeping polio at its current, low levels. We have gotten to this point because vaccinators are wading through flooded rivers; developing country governments are investing scarce resources; and the global health community is on high alert. These are not sustainable approaches. If we don't keep investing, cases will shoot back up to the tens of thousands annually in dozens of countries.

Second, success will generate lessons that benefit all of global health. We are on the verge of doing something we've never been able to do before – reach the vast majority of children in the most remote and dangerous places in the world. We are building systems, developing technology, and training workers. Ending polio is already helping us reach mothers and children with life-saving vaccines and other health services.

I am honoured to join the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in co-hosting a Global Vaccine Summit in Abu Dhabi because we will turn a spotlight on the critical role that immunisation systems play in saving lives and protecting children for a lifetime.

If the world delivers, then we will eradicate polio within six years. It will be another entry in a long list of improvements to the human condition.

Thanks to generous donors like the UK, we cut the child mortality rate by 75 per cent in the past five decades. We cut the poverty rate by 50 per cent in the past two decades. These are mind-boggling successes. Adding the end of polio to the list will be one of the great moral and practical achievements of our age.

Bill Gates is the chairman of Microsoft and the co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Support Analyst - London - £22,000

£20000 - £22000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chel...

KS2 Primary Teacher Plymouth

£21500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd...

Primary Teacher Cornwall

£21500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: ***KS1 & KS2 Teachers ...

Year 5 Teacher

£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...

Day In a Page

Read Next

i Editor's Letter: A huge step forward in medical science, but we're not all the way there yet

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
David Cameron has painted a scary picture of what life would be like under a Labour government  

You want constitutional change? Fixed-term parliaments have already done the job

Steve Richards
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album