BILL Gates claimed last night that polio could be eradicated worldwide by 2018. In a passionate speech on the need to reduce child mortality, the billionaire Microsoft founder and philanthropist set out his mission to rid the world of the disease and praised the British media for its role in highlighting issues of global poverty.
"The fight to eradicate polio is a proving ground, a test," he said in the annual BBC Richard Dimbleby Lecture. "Its outcome will reveal what human beings are capable of."
As he pledged the commitment of his Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to take on the virus, he acknowledged that polio now existed in only three countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. "Stopping these last cases of polio in these last countries, however, is among the most difficult tasks the world has ever assigned itself. It is also among the most important," he said.
Gates said he had met with the presidents of the three countries where polio remains to encourage them to support vaccination programmes in hard-to-reach communities. "We have gotten to this point because vaccinators are wading through flooded rivers, governments are investing scarce resources in expensive surveillance strategies, and the global health community is on high alert," he said.
"These are not sustainable approaches. If we don't get to zero soon, cases will shoot back up to the tens of thousands annually in dozens of countries."
He talked of problems in northern Nigeria, where false rumours have suggested the polio vaccination causes infertility, and in Pakistan, where masked militants last month murdered nine vaccinators, including a 17-year-old girl. "To me, the nihilism behind these co-ordinated attacks – seeking out goodness to destroy it – is the opposite of what the eradication fight is about." (© Independent News Service)