By Gift Briton

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has announced a commitment worth $1.2 billion to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) to support efforts to end all forms of polio globally.

The foundation which has since contributed nearly $5 billion to GPEI, made this announcement during the World Health Summit 2022 in Berlin, Germany, ahead of a key pledging moment that will be co-hosted by Germany and GPEI.

The new financial commitment will support the implementation of the GPEI’s Polio Eradication Strategy 2022-2026, which aims to end wild poliovirus and stop outbreaks of new variants of the virus.

“I want to thank Germany for co-hosting this week’s events and its longstanding support for polio eradication, and I urge other donors to support the eradication strategy to ensure no one is paralyzed by polio again,” Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said, adding that despite the disease remaining a threat, polio eradication is possible.

On October 18, Germany will co-host the GPEI pledging moment at the World Health Summit, where global partners, donors, and country leaders will make further commitments toward the GPEI Strategy 2022-2026, which requires $4.8 billion in funding. If fully funded, GPEI will reach 370 million children each year with polio vaccines and other essential health services.

“The fight against polio has done far more than protect children against polio. It has played a key role in strengthening health systems. Polio workers have been especially vital in responding to COVID-19 and reaching communities about the importance of vaccination against preventable diseases,” said Melinda French Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

With its Strategy 2022-2026, the GPEI is working to further integrate polio campaigns with broader health services and essential immunization programs as well as to continue scaling up the use of an innovative new tool—the novel oral polio vaccine type 2 (nOPV2)— to stop outbreaks of variant poliovirus more sustainably.

Moreover, investments in GPEI will also help strengthen national health systems and ensure that countries are better prepared to respond to future health threats. In addition, the strategy continues the GPEI’s commitment to achieving gender equality across all levels of the program.

“The last steps to eradication are by far the toughest. But our foundation remains dedicated to a polio-free future, and we’re optimistic that we will see it soon,” said Mark Suzman, CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Our investments in polio eradication not only bring us closer to that critical goal, but they also build long-term resilience by bolstering health care infrastructure and ensuring we’re prepared to respond to future pandemics.”

Working closely with governments across the globe, the GPEI has helped reduce polio cases globally by more than 99% and has helped prevent an estimated 20 million cases of polio paralysis since 1988. Despite this historic progress, interruptions in routine immunization, vaccine misinformation, and political unrest have underscored the urgent need to finish the job against polio.

Furthermore, countries that had previously eliminated all forms of poliovirus have recently reported new detections of the virus. The United States and the United Kingdom each confirmed outbreaks of variant poliovirus and were added to the World Health Organization’s outbreak list in September 2022. Malawi and Mozambique each detected cases of wild polio that originated abroad in 2022.