UK & World News

  • 29 January 2013, 10:06

Bill Gates: Eradicating Polio Is Possible

Bill Gates, whose foundation has donated billions of dollars to improving global health and fighting polio, has said the disease can be defeated within six years.

The billionaire philanthropist said investment must be kept up if polio is to be eradicated in the three countries where it remains endemic: Pakistan, neighbouring Afghanistan and Nigeria.

"It's not going to be easy but it's doable," Mr Gates told Sky News.

"It'll be between two and four years, I think, before we get the cases to zero, and then we have to keep vaccinating for two years to make absolutely sure we didn't miss anything.

"So the full final certification could be in the six-year time frame."

According to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which was launched in 1988, about 2.5 billion children around the world have been vaccinated against the highly infectious disease, which can cause paralysis in a matter of hours.

The number of polio cases per year has decreased by 99% to just 222 last year.

But the job is not done, Mr Gates said.

Authorities had to suspend a vaccination campaign in areas of Pakistan in December after nine workers were killed by gunmen.

The campaign resumed this month, but police said that an officer who was escorting a team of polio workers in northwestern Pakistan had been shot dead on Tuesday.

The Taliban has accused health workers of acting as US spies and claimed the vaccine makes children sterile or impotent.

Mr Gates, one of the world's most prominent philanthropists, called the death of the workers in December an "incredible tragedy".

"It's a great illustration of why we need a lot of resources, a lot of very smart people to get it done in the three countries," he said, adding that those nations are going to be the "very toughest".

"We owe it to them to make sure that they don't suffer because being paralysed in these countries is such an awful thing," Mr Gates added.

If the efforts are successful, polio would become the second disease to be completely eradicated after smallpox, Mr Gates said.

"It would energise us to do a lot more important work."

The Microsoft founder was speaking from Berlin. He was in Davos last week for the World Economic Forum.

The foundation co-chaired by him and his wife Melinda is the world's biggest private philanthropic organisation with an endowment worth more than $33bn (21bn).

It is spending about $80m (51m) a year on water, sanitation and hygiene issues.

Mr Gates said he gets great joy from his philanthropy and urged other wealthy people to pick a cause, be active about it and put their wealth to good use.

"It's certainly better than passing it along in your will or lavishing it on luxuries," he said.

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