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[LONDON] The Rotary International Foundation has received a grant of US$100 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to support the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI).

The initial grant, announced this week (November 26), will be spent supporting vaccination campaigns, research projects and surveillance activities over the next year. The Rotary foundation will raise a further US$100 million over the next three years.

GPEI is an international partnership launched in 1988 that includes Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF (the UN Children's Fund) and the WHO.

The leaders of the initiative also promised stronger support for the research agenda. "We will invest US$25 million on science projects during the next two years," said Robert Scott, chair of the Rotary Foundation of Rotary International at a teleconference.

There are more than 40 polio studies underway in order to find more efficient vaccines in countries including China, Egypt, Latin-American countries and the United States, Scott told SciDev.Net.

In the past two decades, GPEI has achieved a 99 per cent decrease in new polio cases. But the disease is still endemic in four countries: Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan. Scott added that "polio could remerge anywhere in the world if we let our guard down and especially if we don't follow through the eradication of this disease".

Margaret Chan, director general of the WHO, said at the teleconference that this new grant announcement is "great news for polio eradication and great news for public health", but she added that achieving a polio-free world is a great challenge.

Bill Gates, the head of Microsoft and sponsor of the Gates foundation, said during the teleconference that eradicating polio is "an achievable goal," but added that the key is for all society members to work together to accomplish the objective.

Rotary International is a charity that attracts volunteers from all over the world, and has been committed to eradicating polio since 1985.