Gates Foundation Annual Letter Concentrates on the Goal of Eradicating Polio


Continuing the work begun last year when Bill and Melinda Gates announced their work to make this the Decade of Vaccines, their third annual letter concentrates on the goal of eradicating polio.

Thanks to a global childhood immunization effort, polio has been reduced by 99% in the U.S. by 99 percent, but it still erupts in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.

Polio (poliomyelitis) is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus that invades the nervous system. It is a terrible disease that kills many and paralyzes others.

Fifty years ago it was widespread around the world. At its peak in the United States in 1952, polio paralyzed or killed more than 24,000 people. Polio was eliminated in the U.S. and most developed nations as a result of mass immunizations.

There are two types of vaccine that can prevent polio: inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) and oral polio vaccine (OPV). IPV has been used in the United States since 2000; however OPV is still used throughout much of the world.

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In 1988 the global community adopted the goal of ending polio altogether. At that time more than 350,000 children a year worldwide were killed or paralyzed by the disease. Vaccination coverage world-wide has increased significantly, resulting in fewer than 1,500 polio cases last year.

While eradication is not guaranteed, it is possible. It requires campaigns to give polio vaccine to all children under 5 in poor countries, at a cost of almost $1 billion per year.

The Gates Foundation gives about $200 million each year to this costly campaign along with funding from organizations such as Rotary International and the governments of India, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Japan. Even with this funding, the campaign faces a 2011-12 funding gap of $720 million.

Bill Gates notes three reasons why eradication of polio is important:

  1. The first is that getting rid of polio will mean that no child will die or be paralyzed by the disease in the future.
  2. The second benefit is that the money that will be saved by eradicating polio far exceeds what we are spending on eradication efforts now. Eradication could save the world up to $50 billion over the next 25 years.
  3. The third benefit is that success will energize the field of global health by showing that investments in health lead to amazing victories.

Vaccines protect children from many life-threatening childhood diseases, providing the best way to give a child a healthy start to life. For anyone who wants to learn more about polio and the eradication campaign, please visit

This morning at 9:30 am EST, Bill Gates and a panel of experts held a live Webcast on “Polio and the Power of Vaccines.” The webcast is available in a recorded form here. The conversation, moderated by Diane Sawyer, included Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Dr. David Oshinsky, Dr. Ciro de Quadros, Executive Vice President, Sabin Vaccine Institute, and Professor Helen Rees,University of Witwatersrand, South Africa and Chair, WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization.

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention