Gates Foundation pledges $1.8b to eradicate polio

HIS 15-year journey from computer tycoon to founder of global health campaigns has seen him transformed from a self-confessed software nerd to the world's leading philanthropist.

And now he has found an extra $1.8bn to cure polio.

At the Global Vaccine Summit in Abu Dhabi on Thursday, the donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was announced as part of a six-year plan to eradicate all types of polio.

Mr Gates, 57, who has said his "all-time favourite" statistic is a chart showing that annual mortality rates for under-fives has fallen from 20 million children to 6.9 million in his lifetime, said humanity was on the verge of doing "something we've never been able to do before".

The couple have led the way for billionaire philanthropy since 2000 when Bill Gates announced he would donate almost all of his $67bn fortune to charitable causes.

While some of the subsequent donations may have been controversial - including last year's $6.4m for research into British genetically modified crops, and the devout Catholic Melinda Gates's $560m donation to family planning charities - the $37bn already given has thrust the couple to the forefront of the world's givers.

But a global end to polio has been a long time in the making, having been promised since 1988 when the goal was laid down.

Then some 350,000 children in 125 countries were paralysed by the disease every year.

Today there only remain three countries where the disease is endemic - Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria - and just 19 cases have been reported this year.

Speaking on Thursday, the Microsoft founder said: "This isn't just a polio eradication plan, it's a global immunisation plan with the goal of ending polio while improving efforts to protect all children with life-saving vaccines."