Last month in New York City, President Ali and I joined Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the presidents of Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan, and other world leaders at a high-level event during the UN General Assembly, where President Ali announced the Islamic Development Bank’s (IDB) full commitment to ending polio forever. I am enthusiastic about the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) joining this important effort because I’m confident we can defeat polio if three things happen: existing and new donors like the IDB commit the necessary long-term funding; global polio eradication partners continue to apply innovative best practices including adopting new technology and financing solutions; and, there is continued leadership and accountability at all levels of government in polio endemic countries. I believe the IDB brings resources, creativity and credibility that can meet each of these goals. I had a chance to sit down with President Ali in New York and ask him a few questions.
BILL GATES: Why has the Islamic Development Bank decided to step in and join the fight to eradicate polio?
DR. AHMAD MOHAMMAD ALI AL-MADANI: The Islamic Development Bank is fully committed to the fight against polio and other global diseases. We are mandated by our charter to foster development and improve health in our member countries and Muslim communities, and all three of the remaining polio-endemic countries—Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan—are Islamic Development Bank members. I believe that institutions like ours have a special responsibility to join together and support the polio effort, and that all development partners should seize this opportunity for a polio-free world.
BILL GATES: Development banks traditionally tend to focus on infrastructure and economic development projects. Why did IDB decide to also prioritize global health issues like polio eradication?
DR. AHMAD MOHAMMAD ALI AL-MADANI: The Islamic Development Bank has long recognized that health plays an important role in socioeconomic development. So far, the bank has extended about US$2 billion in financing and grants to strengthen health systems and fight disease in our member countries. As you know, the polio-endemic countries require an urgent and long-term commitment of funding to ensure that vaccination campaigns will not be in danger of being cancelled or scaled back. So this is an urgent priority. I believe that the IDB’s innovative funding model will bring timely and much-needed resources to the global effort to end polio.
BILL GATES: What are some of the financial innovations the Islamic Development Bank is pioneering and how are they unique?
DR. AHMAD MOHAMMAD ALI AL-MADANI: Before the end of this year, I will present to our Bank’s Board a US$227 million financing package to the Government of Pakistan. This will enable Pakistan to sustainably finance polio eradication activities through 2015. Thanks to our partnership with the Gates Foundation, Pakistan will repay the principal amount to the bank while the Gates Foundation will provide support for the administrative costs. We also have plans to support the Government of Afghanistan through a grant to their polio activities over the next three years. And we are interested in finding ways to support Nigeria’s polio program as well.
By combining resources from multilateral institutions and philanthropies, our approach to financing allows resources to be pooled more quickly and efficiently than ever before, while reducing costs for countries that commit to tackle global diseases. Importantly, this approach is consistent with Islamic financing principles. While debt is allowed in Islamic finance, it is not allowed to grow on its own. It can only grow in step with the growth of the real sector. This introduces greater discipline into the financial system by requiring the lender to share risk with the borrower. Therefore, the most preferred forms of Islamic finance are partnership and profit-and-loss sharing. As an Islamic institution, the IDB adheres to these principles in our efforts to fight global diseases and promote sustainable development.
BILL GATES: Do you plan to bring these innovations to other health and development issues?
DR. AHMAD MOHAMMAD ALI AL-MADANI: Most certainly. We already use cutting-edge financing methods to address global challenges such as illiteracy, hunger and poverty. We also believe they can be extended to strengthen health systems in our member countries and help eliminate other diseases. After polio, we’ll go after malaria!