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UAE opens charity windows for Gates charity

Aisha Tariq / 10 October 2012

Declaring his goal to eradicate polio within the next six years, Bill Gates on Tuesday launched his campaign here on a high note, clinching a partnership with the UAE and a $10 million donation pledge.

Speaking ahead of the Abu Dhabi Media Summit, the Microsoft founder, who has one of the world’s largest private fortunes, identified polio eradication as his “highest priority” under the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s objective to reduce childhood death rates through disease prevention and improved nutrition.

Gates believes that worldwide cases of polio, currently numbering in the thousands, can be brought to zero in the next three years and certifiably so, three years after that.  

“The polio campaign is a great example of partnerships in this region that are very key to us,” he said. “The Crown Prince [of Abu Dhabi] made a commitment to partner with us on polio and he actually had a team of doctors go into Pakistan to some of the hard-to-reach areas and vaccinate a number of children, which was a great help.” Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria are the three remaining nations where polio exists.

Gates, who came to the UAE to meet with local donors and philanthropists as well as to attend the summit, on Tuesday signed a memorandum of understanding with UAE remittance and foreign exchange company Al Ansari Exchange, pledging $10 million   towards polio eradication and neglected tropical diseases prevention. Both the Gates Foundation and Al Ansari Exchange have committed to donating $5 million each.

“Getting donors from this region really points out to everyone that this is for all the children of the world,” said Gates, who observed that the three polio-infected countries are Muslim. “Having the right credibility that the vaccination is a good thing is super important; access is the one thing that’s still a concern for us in all of these difficult areas.”

In his keynote speech at the summit, Gates said he will focus on charity rather than running for US presidency. “I wouldn’t ever choose to run for political office,” said Gates at the annual Abu Dhabi Media Summit held in the Emirati capital.

By running the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, “I don’t have to raise political campaigns, I don’t have to get elected ... I’m not term limited to eight years,” said the US billionaire, but added that he would give “advice” to the president just as he gave to Microsoft.

“Right now, I am spending more of my time and effort to end polio than any other cause. It’s the top priority of our foundation.

“We can end polio. And when we do, it will rejuvenate the whole field of global health,” he said, adding that the dreaded disease has “dropped more than 99 percent over the last 20 years.”

Gates said the foundation he co-chairs has pledged to spend $10 billion in this decade to pay for research and development and delivery of vaccines to the poorest children in the world.

Earlier on Tuesday, Gates met with an Afghan delegation to discuss which areas of the country had not received polio vaccinations and how best to reach them. The Gates Foundation conducts fieldwork primarily through non-governmental partners, such as Red Crescent and the United Nations Children’s Fund. Engaging trusted intermediaries between donors and recipients can make or break a project, he said, no matter how sophisticated the operation.

“We’re smart about using technology — obviously that’s my background — but we’re also very realistic,” emphasised Gates. “There are a lot of people who think technology can automatically solve these problems, but we really have to be cautious to make sure that technology works in these tough field conditions.” Nonetheless, Gates expressed optimism towards the use of mobile technology in raising awareness of global issues such as disease and poverty, both among those who need help and those who are in a position to give it.

His keynote speech at the Abu Dhabi Media Summit explored the intersection of innovation, media and philanthropy that he claims has the potential to change the world. It is a feat that some may say Gates has already achieved through his work at Microsoft, which he still regards as his proudest accomplishment.

“[It] played a key role in changing education, collaboration in science around the world, facilitating people keeping in touch. In my foundation work, I am taking that and saying “how do we use that for inventing vaccines or encouraging more generosity?” he explained. “Until we get polio eradicated and take on other diseases once we’ve finished polio, this work, in some ways, is just beginning….”

(With iputs from AFP)


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