Gates Foundation joins with Rotary to boost polio endgame support


An announcement at the Rotary International Convention, set the stage for a bold new chapter in the partnership between Rotary and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in the campaign for polio eradication.  

“Going forward, the Gates Foundation will match two-to-one, up to US$35 million per year, every dollar Rotary commits to reduce the funding shortfall for polio eradication through 2018,” said Jeff Raikes, the foundation’s chief executive officer, in a prerecorded video address shown during the convention’s plenary session on 25 June. “If fully realized, the value of this new partnership with Rotary is more than $500 million. In this way, your contributions to polio will work twice as hard.”  

The joint effort, called End Polio Now – Make History Today, comes during a critical phase for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative . The estimated cost of the initiative’s 2013-18 Polio Eradication and Endgame Strategic Plan is $5.5 billion. Funding commitments , announced at the Global Vaccine Summit in April, total $4 billion. Unless the $1.5 billion funding gap is met, immunization levels in polio-affected countries will decrease. And if polio is allowed to rebound, within a decade, more than 200,000 children worldwide could be paralyzed every year. 

Rotary and the Gates Foundation are determined not to let polio make a comeback.

“We will combine the strength of Rotary’s network with our resources, and together with the other partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), we will not just end a disease but change the face of public health forever,” said Raikes. 

In 2007, the Gates Foundation gave The Rotary Foundation a $100 million challenge grant for polio eradication, and in 2009, increased it to $355 million. Rotary agreed to raise $200 million in matching funds by 30 June 2012, but Rotarians in fact raised $228.7 million toward the challenge.

“Now is the time for us all to take action: Talk to your government leaders, share your polio story with your social networks, and encourage others to join you in supporting this historic effort,” Raikes added. “When Rotarians combine the passion for service along with the power of a global network, you are unstoppable, and the Gates Foundation is proud to partner with you. Let’s make history and End Polio Now.”

Endgame strategy

Bruce Aylward, assistant director-general for Polio, Emergencies and Country Collaboration at the World Health Organization -- a GPEI partner -- said that the finish line for polio eradication is in sight, but cautioned that “it is one thing to see the finish line; it is another to cross it.”

Sharing details of the latest polio eradication strategic plan, he said the plan is historic in finally setting out the endgame, the final steps needed to wipe out polio.

“We now have the plan to complete the program of PolioPlus,” Aylward said. “And we have the backing of you, Rotarians around the world, to get the job done.”

Actress Archie Panjabi, a Rotary polio eradication ambassador, recounted how, as a 10-year-old living in India, she had seen children crawling along the streets, propelled only by their hands. The image troubled her for years. When she was asked to join Rotary’s This Close campaign in 2011, she said she realized that the children she’d seen were polio victims, and that by working to eliminate polio, she could help prevent others from suffering in that way.

“I came to realize that we still have work to do, and how important it is for people like me -- people like you -- to use our voices to raise awareness of, and support for, the global effort to eradicate polio,” Panjabi said. “As a Rotary polio ambassador, I will continue to do whatever I can to spread the word.”

Million dollar donation

John Germ, vice chair of the International PolioPlus Committee, asked Rotarians to reach out to their non-Rotarian colleagues to raise money for polio eradication. He also introduced Sir Emeka Offor, a Nigerian Rotarian, who announced that he is making a new US$1 million contribution to PolioPlus.

During a PolioPlus Advocacy workshop a day earlier, Offor had explained that his contributions to a number of causes are motivated by his humble origins. Now, as a successful businessman, he enjoys giving in order to help others avoid the circumstances he faced.

As a Rotarian, he said he takes pride in Rotary’s good work and in the organization’s leadership in the polio eradication campaign.

“I hope my means will inspire others to join the fight to end polio in Nigeria,” Offor said. “Polio can be eradicated in my country in my lifetime, and it will be.”

Also during the plenary session, Rotary Foundation Trustee Chair Wilfrid Wilkinson reviewed The Rotary Foundation’s accomplishments, all of which were made possible by a 1960s decision by Rotary leaders to use Foundation grants to fund Rotary service.

“Because of the one moment ... because of their ambition, I can look back with all of you at 50 incredible years of achievements through our Foundation -- lives that we have touched, lives that we have saved, lives to which we have brought health, education, and hope,” Wilkinson said. “And we can look ahead, in just a few years now, to a world free of polio.”