ABU DHABI // Bill Gates has hailed the capital’s Global Vaccine Summit a success, and says his partnership and friendship with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, will spread to other projects.
The billionaire philanthropist spoke of his five-year relationship with Sheikh Mohammed, also Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, as it was announced that billions of dollars have been pledged in a final push to eradicate polio by 2018.
“I am sure he and I will come up with other things to do together,” said Mr Gates. “He is dynamic, he is risk-taking, so we have some causes in common.
“We both can afford to bet on important things, even if they might take a while to succeed. We can partner on those kinds of things. He has been fantastic.”
The two-day event was attended by more than 300 world leaders, health and development experts, philanthropists and leading businessmen.
The six-year plan unveiled to rid the world of polio was forecast to cost US$5.5 billion (Dh20.2bn).
By lunchtime, $4bn had been committed, the summit heard, enabling one billion children to be vaccinated.
Mr Gates announced the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation would commit $1.8bn, one third of the cost.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) presented the plan, which is designed to eradicate all types of polio at the same time.
Mr Gates, the Microsoft chairman, described the vaccination summit as very successful and novel.
“Global health events are typically in Stockholm, London, New York … actually London is the one that ends up being the most,” he said. “So it’s a pretty novel thing it’s the first one that was just focused on vaccines, the first one that was done here.
The event was held under the patronage of Sheikh Mohammed and in partnership with the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon and Mr Gates.
The polio plan is said to capitalise on the best opportunity to eradicate the disease, with the number of children paralysed by it at the lowest level ever: just 223 cases last year and only 19 so far this year.
It is still endemic in Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Now is the time to strike after advances made last year, the summit heard. There is a narrow window of opportunity to stop all polio viruses spreading before clean countries are reinfected.
Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, Minister of Development and International Cooperation, addressed the summit.
“We are the adults of today but the children are actually the adults of the future and when we think about this, we are entrusted for the children in leaving a better planet, we are entrusted in giving them the right life, education and health,” Sheikha Lubna said.
Representatives from several countries around the world spoke of the financial contributions they were making to the plan, and were greeted by a round of applause from the audience.
Among them was Alan Duncan, the UK’s international development minister.
“So convinced are we that polio eradication is a good investment and the right thing to do that, today, I am very pleased to announce a commitment over the next six years of up to £300 million (Dh1.7bn),” Mr Duncan said.
Unicef executive director Anthony Lake said: “Ending polio will not only be a historic feat for humanity but also a huge part of our efforts to reach every hard-to-reach child with a range of life-saving vaccines.”
He told the summit he couldn’t be more thrilled with the amount already committed.
“Based on what has happened here today, the financing will not be the thing that stands in the way of us achieving polio eradication,” Mr Lake said.
The multibillion-dollar plan addresses the operational challenges of vaccinating children, including in densely populated cities, hard-to-reach areas and areas of insecurity.
It is estimated that the GPEI’s efforts to eradicate polio could deliver total net benefits of up to $50bn by 2035, from reduced treatment costs and gains in productivity.