EU and Gates Foundation have a billion-euro plan to end polio

11 Oct 2023

Image: © Kirill Gorlov/

If successful, this will be the second time in history that we have eradicated a human disease, after smallpox.

The European Union is spearheading a billion-euro campaign to eradicate polio with the help of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the European Investment Bank (EIB).

After its success in curbing the Covid-19 pandemic through a mix of vaccinations and other health measures, the EU wants to put an end to poliomyelitis, more commonly known as polio, which is a highly infectious viral disease that largely affects children under 5 years of age.

“We are about to wipe polio off the face of the Earth. The European Commission, the EIB and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are partnering to get through the final stretch,” commission president Ursula von der Leyen said in an announcement today (11 October).

The €1.1bn fund will be used to invest in strengthening health systems in affected countries and help UNICEF, the children’s wing of the UN, and the World Health Organization (WHO) deploy vaccines and medicines where they are most needed.

“Global cooperation has helped us put an end to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now it will help us get rid of polio once and for all,” Von der Leyen added.

Transmitted from person to person, polio is mainly spread through the faecal-oral route and multiplies in the intestine to eventually invade the nervous system and cause paralysis.

According to WHO, wild polio cases have decreased by more than 99pc since 1988, from an estimated 350,000 cases in more than 125 endemic countries to 6 reported cases in 2021.

Of the three strains of wild poliovirus, two were eradicated in 1999 and 2020 respectively. As of last year, endemic wild poliovirus type 1 remains in two countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“Today we are united to write the final chapter in the history of polio,” said EIB president Werner Hoyer. “This initiative will be a milestone in scaling up immunisation and strengthening healthcare, ensuring that every child, regardless of their circumstances, can be protected against polio.”

If successful in its objective, this EU campaign will be the second time in history that we have eradicated a human disease.

“Thanks to medical innovations, the world eradicated one human disease – smallpox. Today we’re on the verge of ending another – wild poliovirus,” said Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“I am committed to ensuring that no child, anywhere in the world, faces this awful disease. I am also optimistic that we will eradicate polio once and for all and make health innovations more accessible for everyone, particularly those in the poorest countries.”

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic