January 21, 2009

Gates Foundation Contributes Millions To Eradicate Polio

According to the Associated Press, the international effort to eradicate polio was boosted by a donation of over $630 million from Bill Gates and other donors, after the disease spiked and spread to seven countries that were previously polio-free.

The money will be donated over the span of two years, according to official announcements on Wednesday from Gates' foundation and the charity group Rotary International along with the British and German governments.

However, the World Health Organization estimates that the campaign still needs $340 million to get through 2010, even with the new injection of funds. Another $2 billion would be needed until 2013, when the WHO hopes that polio will have been wiped out.

Gates, the co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which donated $255 million, said he was very optimistic that the world will succeed in eradicating polio.

Polio is a water-borne disease that mostly strikes children under 5, causing paralysis and even death in some cases.

Ever since the WHO and partners launched their initiative to eradicate the disease in 1988, there's been a more than 99 percent drop in reported polio cases. Yet the fewer than 2,000 cases annually have remained at a standstill since 2000.

Dr. Bruce Aylward, the WHO's director of polio eradication, said that many countries were hoping to certify that polio is gone by 2013.

In 2000 and 2005, deadlines to get rid of polio were missed and no official new target date has been set.

The disease remains endemic in Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan. In Nigeria, low vaccination rates have allowed the virus to surge, while the war on terror makes reaching every child difficult in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The virus remains stubbornly entrenched in India despite continued vaccination efforts.

Cases were also reported in 11 other African countries and Burma and Nepal last year alone.


Image Caption: A child receives oral polio vaccine.


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