Press Room




William H. Gates Sr. - Global Health Council, 29th Annual Conference

May 30, 2002
Prepared remarks by William H. Gates Sr., co-chair

Good evening.  I know Rotarians involved with global polio cherish their association with the late Dr. Albert Sabin.  So they might be pleased to know I spoke at the dedication of the Albert Sabin Center in Cincinnati last year. 

On that occasion I gave Mrs. Sabin a photograph of my son administering the oral polio vaccine to a child in Delhi, India. I shared the fact that we've honored Dr. Sabin by naming our main conference room after him.  And I said I'd sometimes wondered what the spirit of Albert Sabin might think about the decisions we make there.

As it has for other American heroes, our country honored Albert Sabin with burial at Arlington National Cemetery, where a near neighbor of his is the preeminent Dr. Walter Reed.  So, the scientist Dr. Sabin called his "scientific son", Dr. Robert Channock, has conjured up an image he chuckles over.  An image of an ongoing "celestial" conversation between Dr. Sabin and Dr. Reed, he says he likes to think might be going on at Arlington.

Well, if such a conversation were occurring it would certainly include reference to the amazing work that Rotary has done.

The global health landscape has completely changed since 1985, the year Albert Sabin addressed the Rotary International Convention on the topic of global polio.  Back then the notion of private/public partnerships undertaking large-scale global health initiatives was something practically unheard of.

Also, at that time, we associated volunteer service organizations with efforts to meet needs that existed down the street and activities much less monumental than a 20 year global campaign to rid the world of polio.  Rotary International, the Rotary Foundation and 1.2 million Rotarians in 163 countries changed that.  And, in the process they have reminded us that there is no human problem so daunting that it can't be overcome by people.
What has been achieved since Rotary International courageously committed to eradicate polio defies description.  Polio cases have declined by 99.8 percent.  Last year, there were just 480 polio cases reported globally.  (This is a disease that 14 years ago was paralyzing a thousand children a day.)
From 2000 to 2001 alone, the number of polio-endemic countries has been reduced by half.  In 2001, 10 million volunteers vaccinated 575 million children for polio.

Those are record numbers for any disease.  But there's more to this story.

Rotary gave us a whole new model for what private/public partnerships can achieve and how they best function.

Rotary dramatically lifted our sights regarding the level of funding volunteers could deliver:  almost $500M from its members, and they will pick up an additional one million dollars here tonight as part of the award.

They showed us what solid, sincere advocates could do to raise funds from governments and to engage heads of state in global health issues.  Every time we see a world leader administering polio vaccine to a child, or hear about a war being stopped somewhere so children can be vaccinated, we can thank Rotary for demonstrating how much can be accomplished when a group selflessly uses every ounce of the political capital at its disposal to improve the health of  the world's poorest children.

Rotary, as I understand it, wasn't especially eager to assume the role of an advocate in the political realm.  But they did it anyway.  For the same reason they seem to have done everything else:  because they believed that's what it would take to do the job.

Rotary proved that to have the best partner you need to be one.  In fact, their diligence, professionalism and businesslike approach revolutionized our thinking about the capabilities of volunteer partners, earning them the plaudits of the World Health Organization, UNICEF and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  (It's just awe-inspiring to hear the things these partners say about them.)  Rotary also has gained the support of major donor governments such as Japan, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Canada. 

Rotary taught us how to mobilize people.  They gave us innovations such as the Interagency Coordinating Committee or ICC, that reviews immunization needs in a country and establishes a basis for determining funding requirements. They created Polio Plus, and used Polio Plus partners to help – among other things – build a laboratory network invaluable to this effort.

Rotary  showed us that a good partner respects and trusts its allies; takes risks; and stays flexible.

Above all, Rotary International is revered for having stayed the course all these years with a single-mindedness that astounds anyone who gets near it.  Even today they are viewed as providing the conscience that will see this initiative to its completion.
Rotary opened people's eyes to seeing the world as one community.

And, every Rotarian who has ever spent a vacation immunizing children, or who has raised funds for it; every Rotarian who has participated in efforts to build water wells; every Rotarian who has invested in the fight against malaria or tuberculosis, has inspired us to believe that in the interest of an engaging cause we can overcome even those things that paralyze and polarize us as a species.  Among them are poverty, prejudice, illiteracy, and most of all indifference.  No physical or societal ill, and no calamity or catastrophe – including AIDS – is bigger than we are.

So, similarly to what my son said to 70 heads of state at the United Nations, I say to you tonight:  Let's eradicate polio.  Let's  get vaccines to every child and save 3 million lives a year.  Let's recommit ourselves to developing and deploying vaccines against AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.

And what I'd like to say to Rotary International, the Rotary Foundation and Rotarians everywhere, who have some of their hardest work yet ahead, is this:  If there were that celestial conversation going on somewhere tonight, I know what Albert Sabin would say about our decision to grant you this award.  And I know what he would think about what you've done with the seemingly outrageous idea he once planted in your midst.

I'd like to ask all the Rotarians present here tonight to please stand for a moment.

Now I'm extremely proud to present the 2002 Gates Award for Global Health to The Rotary Foundation.  This award recognizes an organization that has made a major and lasting contribution to the field of global health.

In selecting you, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation salutes the leadership you've demonstrated and all your work in the field of public health, most notably that which you've done, are doing, and will do to eradicate polio.

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