Mohamed bin Zayed, Bill Gates renew polio efforts

By Eudore R. Chand

ABU DHABI 20 November 2019: His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, received Bill Gates, Co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, yesterday.

Gates is currently on a visit to the UAE to attend the “Reaching the Last Mile Forum in Abu Dhabi” held in the emirate.

Sheikh Mohamed welcomed Gates and discussed with him cooperation to deal with epidemic and communicable diseases across the world, especially polio, and the positive steps taken to achieve this goal during the past period.

They also discussed the role of the forum in mobilising international efforts to assist vulnerable people in eliminating the serious diseases threatening them.

His Highness lauded the role played by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in tackling diseases and expressed his happiness over the fruitful cooperation with the foundation in this regard.

Gates also extended his heartfelt condolences on the death of Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed, to which Sheikh Mohamed expressed his gratefulness and appreciation, said Wam.

Among those who attended the meeting were Sheikh Khalid bin Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Member of the Executive Council and Chairman of the Executive Office; Sheikh Zayed bin Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan;  Sheikha Hessa bint Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan; Reem bint Ibrahim Al Hashemy, Minister of State for International Cooperation; and Mohamed Mubarak Al Mazrouei, Under-Secretary of the Court of the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince.

Polio eradication cannot stop: Bill Gates

Although a few polio cases remain to be eradicated in the world, “if we stopped eradication efforts now, there could be a resurgence of up to 200,000 cases annually by 2029,” said Bill Gates, while announcing an additional US$1.08 billion from the Foundation for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), at the Reaching the Last Mile Forum on Tuesday at Louvre Abu Dhabi.

Global leaders convened at the Forum in Abu Dhabi affirmed their commitment to eradicate polio and pledged a total of US$2.6 billion as part of the first phase of the funding needed to implement the GPEI’s Polio Endgame Strategy 2019-2023.

Gates went on to say that since 1988, polio cases decreased by 99.9 percent. The remaining cases persist in some of the most complex and challenging places on earth, including war zones, inaccessible to vaccinators, he said.

Wild poliovirus, which was circulating in 125 countries, exists in just two countries today, Gates pointed out.

Two of the three strains of wild poliovirus have been eradicated. And more than 18 million people are walking today who would otherwise have been paralysed by polio, he noted.

“Most people focus on how many cases of polio are left in the world, and that number has hovered just above zero for a few years now. But even a single child paralysed by polio is one too many,” Gates explained.

Wily Virus

“And, as there are fewer and fewer cases of polio, detecting the virus becomes more difficult. Most people infected with it show no signs of paralysis, which means the virus can circulate silently for long periods of time before it is detected or causes paralysis in a child,” he warned.

Gates thanked His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, for hosting the RLM Forum, his presence in the Forum and his leadership in global health.

“The UAE’s commitment to ending diseases of poverty goes back decades. Sheikh Zayed, the UAE’s Founding Father, was among the first international leaders to join in this effort,” Gates said.

“Sheikh Mohamed and I began working together on childhood immunisation and polio eradication in 2011. Since then, I have seen his dedication, evident not only in his generous financial support, but also in his ability to bring together partners in the global health community. Today is one example of that,” he explained.

Sheikh Mohamed is also using the UAE’s expertise and relations in the region to accelerate disease elimination, Gates noted.

“For example, under his leadership, the UAE-Pakistan Assistance Programme has carried out its own polio vaccination campaigns in Pakistan to reach children who haven’t previously been immunised,” he said.

Gate continued, “Two years ago, Sheikh Mohamed established the Global Institute for Disease Elimination, with support from our foundation. Sheikh Mohamed and I also partnered to create the Reaching the Last Mile Fund, which is focused on eliminating river blindness and lymphatic filariasis in the Sahel.”

Global leaders pledge $2.6bn to eradicate polio

Global leaders convened at the Reaching the Last Mile Forum in Abu Dhabi to affirm their commitment to eradicate polio and pledge US$2.6 billion as part of the first phase of the funding needed to implement the Global Polio Eradication Initiative’s Polio Endgame Strategy 2019-2023.

This pledging event comes on the heels of a major announcement last month that the world has eradicated two of the three wild poliovirus strains, leaving only wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1) still in circulation. Additionally, Nigeria – the last country in Africa to have cases of wild polio – has not seen wild polio since 2016 and the entire WHO African region could be certified wild polio-free in 2020. Thanks to the dedicated efforts of health workers, governments, donors and partners, wild polio only circulates in two countries: Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“From supporting one of the world’s largest health workforces, to reaching every last child with vaccines, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative is not only moving us closer to a polio-free world, it’s also building essential health infrastructure to address a range of other health needs,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization and Chair of the Polio Oversight Board.

“We are grateful for the generous pledges made today and thank governments, donors and partners for standing with us. In particular, I would like to thank His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi for hosting the GPEI pledging moment and for his long-term support for polio eradication.”

The commitments announced today come at a critical time for the polio eradication effort. Barriers to reaching every child – including inconsistent campaign quality, insecurity, conflict, massive mobile populations, and, in some instances, parental refusal to the vaccine – have led to ongoing transmission of the wild poliovirus in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Further, low immunity to the virus in parts of Africa and Asia where not all children are vaccinated has sparked outbreaks of a rare form of the virus. To surmount these obstacles and protect 450 million children from polio every year, governments and donors announced significant new financial commitments toward the $3.27 billion needed to support the Polio Endgame Strategy.

Pledges are from a diverse array of donors, including:

  • US$160 million from the host of the pledging moment His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi
  • US$215.92 million from the United States
  • US$160 million from the Islamic Republic of Pakistan
  • US$105.05 million from Germany
  • US$84.17 million from the Federal Government of Nigeria
  • US$10.83 million from Norway
  • US$10.29 million from Australia
  • US$7.4 million from Japan
  • US$2.22 million from Luxembourg
  • US$1.34 million from New Zealand
  • US$116,000 from Spain, and
  • US$10,000 from Liechtenstein;
  • US$1.08 billion from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and
  • US$150 million from Rotary International
  • US$50 million from Bloomberg Philanthropies
  • US$25 million from Dalio Philanthropies
  • US$15 million from the Tahir Foundation
  • US$6.4 million from the United Nations Foundation
  • US$2 million from Alwaleed Philanthropies
  • US$1 million from the Charina Endowment Fund, and
  • US$1 million from Ningxia Yanbao Charity Foundation
  • US$1 million from Ahmed Al Abdulla Group
  • US$1 million from Al Ansari Exchange, and
  • US$340,000 from Kasta Technologies.
  • Earlier this month, the United Kingdom announced it would contribute up to US$514.8 million to the GPEI

“We are proud to host the GPEI pledging moment in Abu Dhabi and thank all the attendees for their continued commitment to the eradication of polio,” said Reem bint Ibrahim Al Hashemy, Minister of State for International Cooperation. “Since launching in 2014, the Emirates Polio Campaign has delivered more than 430 million polio vaccines in some of the most remote areas of Pakistan. We remain firm in our mission to reach every last child and believe together we can consign polio to the pages of history.”

In addition to overcoming barriers to reach every child, this funding will ensure the resources and infrastructure built by the GPEI can support other health needs today and in the future. Polio workers deliver Vitamin A supplements, provide other vaccines like those for measles and yellow fever, counsel new mothers on breastfeeding, and strengthen disease surveillance systems to anticipate and respond to outbreaks. As part of its commitment to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment, the GPEI is also working to ensure equal participation of women at all levels of the programme.

The future of polio eradication hinges on support and engagement at all levels of the programme – from individuals to communities to local and national governments to donors. If the strategies needed to reach and vaccinate children are fully implemented and funded, we are confident that we can deliver a world where no child lives in fear of polio.

Funding Innovations with 50% chance of failure

The world’s richest man Bill Gates said the energy ventures supported by him risked a 50 percent failure, still he wanted to encourage innovations.

He was answering a question about the venture of Heliogen, a California-based company, which invented a technology using artificial intelligence and a field of mirrors, to turn sunlight into a source of heat above 1,000 degree Celsius that could help replace fossil fuels.

“Many people are funding innovative works because we need so many innovations to solve the problems of climate change. That’s why I created this breakthrough energy venture, which is investing in many early-stage companies,” Gates said in a meeting with journalists from the Emirates News Agency, WAM; Associated Press and the Daily Telegraph after participating in the Reaching the Last Mile, RLM, Forum at Louvre Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.

“Although I love them all, I should say that there is a very high risk. So the failure rate of such companies would be over 50 percent,” he said in response to the question from WAM.

“It is even harder than normal venture capital the energy space is very difficult. But we have to accelerate the innovation,” Gates explained.

He said he would be interested in collaboration with the UAE in renewable energy sector after the successful cooperation in polio eradication efforts across the globe.

He appreciated the efforts of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, who pledged on Tuesday US$160 million for global polio eradication efforts.

Gates said his foundation’s 8-year long investments in polio vaccine would make some breakthrough in the next year.

He expressed optimism that polio would be completely eradicated from remaining countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The political leadership in those countries have extended sincere support towards this mission, Gates concluded.