The author is a senior editor at Health Affairs who focuses on global health.
The April 2013 GrantWatch column noted the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s announcement of the eradication of polio as one of its priorities.
Subsequently, the foundation launched the Global Polio Eradication and Endgame Strategic Plan (2013–2018), together with other partners, at the first Global Vaccine Summit in Abu Dhabi, April 24-25. The summit achieved a milestone by bringing together partners to announce their support for the strategic plan and to obtain commitments to finance the plan for the entire six-year implementation period. The summit builds on prior international collaboration for the Decade of Vaccines, which has been endorsed by 200 governments and aims to increase all children’s access to lifesaving vaccines by 2020. Health Affairs published a global health issue on the Decade of Vaccines in June 2011.
The new strategic plan, developed by a partnership led by the World Health Organization, Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), with support from the Gates Foundation, aims to eradicate polio by 2018. One of the plan’s goals is to strengthen all routine childhood immunizations using the best practices learned from polio eradication programs. In a statement, Bill Gates said that “by investing in stronger immunization systems, we can protect our gains against polio and reach mothers and children with other health services.”
The launch of the plan builds on a propitious moment in history to move forward with eradication of the disease. Global polio cases are now at an all-time low; according to Hamid Jafari, director of polio operations and research for the World Health Organization, 2012 was “a remarkable year—with fewer than 223 reported cases of polio—the fewest number of cases ever seen in the world.” The plan takes a forthright approach to anticipating and preparing for challenges in the polio programs in the remaining endemic countries—Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan—and creates a realistic timeline and budget to complete eradication. The plan builds on India’s success in ending polio within its borders by carefully monitoring data to respond rapidly to immunization problems, developing detailed micro-plans together with communities and local governments, and identifying and mapping underserved populations for vaccination.
The plan also calls for the “live”-virus oral polio vaccines currently used in immunization programs around the world to be replaced with inactivated polio vaccines by 2016. This move would reduce the risk of vaccine-derived cases of polio. Eventually, in 2018, the plan anticipates transferring the polio program’s knowledge and infrastructure to other health programs, once polio is eradicated.
At the Global Vaccine Summit, foundations, international agencies, and governments announced pledges to contribute almost three-quarters of the estimated $5.5 billion cost of eradication. The summit celebrated recent progress in reaching more children in developing countries with lifesaving vaccination programs against polio and other diseases, highlighted the new strategic plan for polio, and also examined the challenges of strengthening routine immunization for polio and other diseases as an important element in ensuring polio eradication and in improving child health.
The Gates Foundation announced it will commit to supporting $1.8 billion (one-third of the total cost of the plan’s budget) during the plan’s six-year implementation. As of April 24, 2013, the foundation had received pledges of more than $4 billion from commitments made in anticipation of the plan’s launch (through February 2013) and pledges from April 2013, in conjunction with the summit. In addition to pledges from governments and international agencies, the summit featured commitments from a group of philanthropists that had not previously donated to global vaccination efforts. They pledged US$335 million toward implementing the plan. These new philanthropies making commitments include:
Albert L. Ueltschi Foundation, Florida
Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation-Global, Saudi Arabia
Bloomberg Philanthropies, New York
Carlos Slim Foundation, Mexico
Dalio Foundation, Connecticut
The Foundation for a Greater Opportunity (established by Carl C. Icahn), New York
The Tahir Foundation, Indonesia
The summit was led by co-hosts Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy supreme commander of the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces; Ban-Ki Moon, secretary-general of the United Nations; and Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The organizing partners of the summit were: UNICEF, the World Health Organization, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, the GAVI Alliance, and the Gates Foundation.