Wall Street Journal article written by Betsy Mckay -- June 25, 2013


Rotary International and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have renewed a fundraising partnership they hope will inject millions of new dollars into the final push to eradicate polio, a goal both say is closer than ever.

Only 69 cases of polio were reported globally so far this year as of June 19, and an independent board monitoring the global eradication effort recently said halting transmission of the disease by the end of 2014 is "a realistic prospect." The number of cases has declined substantially from 1,352 reported in 2010, and the virus is endemic in pockets of only three countries: Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.

But the war on the final vestiges of polio is tough. Polio vaccinators have been shot and killed in recent months in Nigeria and Pakistan. An eradication goal was missed last year. And the virus appears to be resurging in the Horn of Africa, with more than one-third of the cases so far this year in Somalia and Kenya—two countries that had been largely polio-free.

Under the agreement, the Gates Foundation said it will match two to one every new dollar that Rotary commits to polio eradication up to $35 million a year over five years. That could total $525 million, including $175 million from the Rotary Foundation and $350 million from the Gates Foundation for polio immunization programs, the organizations said.

The fundraising is part of a six-year drive to raise $5.5 billion for a "polio eradication and endgame strategic plan" led by Rotary International, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Unicef and the World Health Organization to wipe out the virus by 2018. Governments, nongovernmental organizations and individual philanthropists such as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg have pledged $4 billion of that amount. The Gates Foundation has committed $1.8 billion of that amount, which it says will include its matching funds for Rotary.

Rotary launched its first fundraising campaign for polio in 1985, prodding a World Health Organization resolution to eradicate the disease. It has contributed $1.2 billion since then toward eradication, raised through donations from Rotarians as well as their communities, and thousands of Rotary volunteers have helped immunize children in multiple countries.

Over the past year, volunteers have vaccinated people in mobile clinics and at toll plazas in Pakistan, met with religious leaders, and implemented lessons learned from India, which successfully stopped transmission of polio with programs like health camps that offer nutrition training and other health services along with polio vaccine.

"Rotarians are spending not only money out of their pockets and raising money in the community, but they've also spent a considerable amount of their own money and time to go to these countries and help with the vaccination efforts," said John Germ, vice chairman of fund development for the Rotary International PolioPlus Committee.

The amount Rotary is seeking to raise is less than approximately $228 million it raised during a recent five-year campaign, in which the Gates Foundation also matched funds. Part of the reason is concern about "donor fatigue," Mr. Germ said. But mainly, he said, Rotary's goal now is to persuade major donors such as governments and corporations to give more for the final eradication push. "We need to reach out and get money from those who have not given," he said.

And, he said, Rotary is likely to raise more than the $35 million a year. "Rotary's got a history of exceeding its goals," he said.

"We both want to maintain the momentum," said Gates Foundation CEO Jeff Raikes, adding that the new endgame strategy has plans and resources for quelling outbreaks like the one in the Horn of Africa. "We're very excited about what can be done here."

Written by: Betsy Mckay, Wall Street Journal, June 25, 2013