x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Microsoft's Bill Gates: UAE key in global fight to end polio

The billionaire philanthropist, speaking in Abu Dhabi, said his 'highest priority' is to finish his quest of making the disease extinct.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates believes the UAE is a key player in ending polio. Fatima Al Marzooqi / The National
Microsoft founder Bill Gates believes the UAE is a key player in ending polio. Fatima Al Marzooqi / The National

ABU DHABI // The UAE is a key player in the fight to eradicate polio, Microsoft founder Bill Gates said in the capital today.

The billionaire philanthropist, who is in the city to speak at this week's Abu Dhabi Media Summit, said his "highest priority" is to finish his quest of making the disease extinct.

He said contributions from the UAE to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's polio campaign were "a great example" of how this partnership was "very key to us".

The 56-year-old American business magnate, who plans to donate 95 per cent of his fortune to charity, said he is in the UAE for a few reasons, including to "touch base" with Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.

He said he is also planning to have a number of "important meetings" today with donors and other philanthropists in the country who have "picked to focus on the issue of helping the poor".

Last year Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed donated US$50 million (Dh184m) to the World Health Organisation (Who) and the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) to deliver polio vaccines in Pakistan and Afghanistan, which are among only four countries in the world where polio is endemic.

"The Crown Prince made a significant commitment to partner with us on polio," said Mr Gates.

He said their new partnership with the Islamic Development Bank was also contributing to the campaign, with their recent $227m loan to Pakistan to fight the disease.

He added that the issues with delivering the vaccination to these areas were difficult to deal with due to a lack of access.

"All the areas that still remain [with polio] are Muslim areas, so having the right credibility that vaccination is a good thing is super important," he said.

"Access is the one thing that is still a concern for us in all these difficult areas."

There are now only a few thousand cases of polio a year since the campaign started. Mr Gates said he projects that in the next three years it will be completely eradicated.

He said an additional three years after that, in about 2018, they would be able to certify polio as the second disease to be eradicated since small pox was, in 1979.

Mr Gates said his partnerships in the region was "why we have been able to be so successful".

molson@thenational.ae