Eradicating polio will take renewed resolve, says Gates

Bill Gates addressed Rotarians during the third plenary session of the 2011 RI Convention 24 May. Rotary Images/Monika Lozinska-Lee

Gates, the keynote speaker at the third plenary session of the 2011 RI Convention, 24 May in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, said that because of Rotary, there are many places in the world where polio is no longer considered a threat. 

“That’s a blessing and a curse,” said Gates. “The blessing is that in many places, polio is a disease of the past. The curse is that it is now harder for us to raise awareness that, in some places, polio is also a disease of the present. If we fail to help leaders around the world understand this, polio is certain to be a disease of the future.” 

Download the speech, watch highlights of the plenary, or view the entire speech on the Gates Foundation website.

Gates praised Rotary for reducing the incidence of polio by more than 99 percent worldwide since 1988.  

“Your work has brought us so far,” he said. “I’m so proud to be a partner in the work that Rotary has been doing to eradicate polio.” 

Gates noted that only one case of polio had been reported in India this year, as of March. 

“India is approaching zero cases,” said Gates. “None of this would have been remotely achievable had it not been for Rotary. We would not be where we are without you. Nor can we get to where we’re going without you.” 

Gates said that he and his wife, Melinda, have made eradicating polio their foundation's top priority. With the world on the threshold of eradication, the hard work really begins, he said.  

“Polio eradication has been our single biggest investment in recent years, as far as innovation and creativity. The last 1 percent will be the longest and hardest 1 percent,” he said. “It will require more work and more commitment than ever before. Without the redoubled effort of everyone in this room, and your fellow Rotarians around the world, we will not succeed. Redoubling is crucial to ending polio.” 

The Gates Foundation has awarded two grants totaling US$355 million to Rotary in support of its work in eradicating the disease. Rotary has responded with Rotary's US$200 Million Challenge . To date, Rotarians have raised $173.2 million for the challenge. 

Gates said he plans to work with Rotary leadership to keep polio front and center in the public eye. “You have helped so many people understand that we are ‘this close.’ I challenge you to make your voices louder.” 

Countries including Canada, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States have all increased their investment in the eradication effort. Gates attributed that success to the pressure Rotarians have put on the leaders of those countries. But he noted that with a funding gap of $400 million next year for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative , it is no time to let up. 

“If we fail, the disease will not stay at its current low level,” he said. “It will spread back into countries where it’s been eliminated, and will kill and paralyze hundreds of thousands of children who used to be safe.” 

Gates said that the monuments Rotarians have illuminated with the End Polio Now message  are powerful images.  

“But ultimately, the most important monument won’t be the one we illuminate,” said Gates. “It will be the one we create.”

Learn more about Rotary's effort to eradicate polio:

  • Read more  about polio and what you can do to help.
  • Watch a video  "The Last Hurdle" about Rotary's work to eradicate polio