Gates Foundation to open office in Saudi Arabia

Announcement comes after Saudi Arabia pledges US$500m to BMGF-backed polio initiative

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The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) is establishing its first MENA regional office in the Mohammed Bin Salman Nonprofit City in Riyadh. The announcement was made in April 2024 at the World Economic Forum (WEF) Special Meeting in Riyadh attended by Bill Gates, reflecting a new chapter of partnership between Saudi Arabia and the foundation across health, poverty eradication, and youth engagement.

During the WEF meeting, Saudi Arabia pledged US$500m to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GEPI).  GEPI is a public-private partnership led by national governments with six partners - the World Health Organisation (WHO), Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), BMGF, and Gavi, the vaccine alliance.

This new five-year commitment from Saudi Arabia is the largest multi-year pledge by a sovereign donor towards the current GPEI strategy.

Saudi Arabia also pledged $100m to support the Lives and Livelihoods Fund (LLF), the largest multilateral development initiative in the Middle East, which aims to lift the poorest out of poverty across 33 IsDB member countries through investments in strengthening primary health care, eliminating preventable infectious diseases, supporting smallholder farming and rural agriculture, and improving basic infrastructure. 

In addition to polio and LLF, BMGF said it will be partnering with the Misk Foundation, launched by Saudi’s crown prince, Mohammed Bin Salman, to support youth engagement and effectiveness of the country’s third sector.

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From second left: Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, World Health Organization (WHO), Geneva, Bill Gates BMGF co-chair; Mian Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif, Prime Minister of Pakistan; Fahad bin Abdurrahman Al-Jalajel, Minister of Health of Saudi Arabia; Abdullah Al Rabeeah, KS Relief; and Anita Zaidi, president of gender equality at BMGF. Photo: WEF

BMGF said it would also be working with Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Health to improve disease surveillance and testing, bringing safe and clean sanitation solutions to millions of Hajj pilgrims, and providing technical assistance to support Saudi Arabia’s vaccine manufacturing capabilities, with the aim of helping low- and middle-income countries access lower-cost vaccines.

Fahad bin Abdurrahman Al-Jalajel, Saudi’s Minister of Health, (pictured top) said: “The world faces many health challenges, and it is part of our responsibility and leadership to contribute with our partners in bridging the gaps, and through concerted efforts, we will be able to alleviate the suffering of many people.”

Anita Zaidi, president of the foundation’s gender equality division, said: “This is a really momentous occasion for us to really expand our partnership with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It's the biggest contribution that a sovereign country has ever given to the polio eradication program, and it’s really a signal for how governments in the Middle East, like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, are really stepping up to play their part in global health and development.”

King Salman Humanitarian Aid & Relief Centre (KSrelief) and BMGF also used the WEF event to announce they would each allocating US$4m as a humanitarian relief grant in response to acute humanitarian needs in Gaza. This funding will be distributed through UNICEF to deliver health interventions and provide access to basic water and sanitation services.