Bill Gates Takes On Fight Against Polio
In recent years the world has come close to eradicating the poliovirus and now with the backing of multibillionaire Bill Gates, that eventuality could become a reality very soon.
In 2012 there were just 205 cases of naturally occurring poliovirus compared to 650 cases in 2011 and a huge 350,000 cases less than a quarter of a century ago. The three countries in the world most heavily affected by the disease are Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.
Last week billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates delivered the annual BBC Richard Dimbleby Lecture during which he spelled out his commitment to ridding the world of polio. Through the Gates Foundation, Bill and his wife Melinda have already given away nearly $30 billion of their fortune and there are tens of billions more in the pipeline. Gates is passionate about fighting the world’s most harmful and infectious diseases.
In his lecture Gates likened the pace of innovation in computers with the fight against polio. He said:
“In the late 1970s we had a dream of giving everybody access to computer technology - a vision of a computer on every desktop. Now there is a computer in every pocket.
“The pace of innovation keeps getting faster. The same is true of polio.
“It was first recognised at least 4,000 years ago, but it was just 200 years ago we figured out it's contagious - just 100 years ago we learned it's a virus. Just 50 years ago we developed the vaccine to prevent it.
“Just 25 years ago we resolved to eradicate it. And so on.”
However Gates also acknowledged that the final push against polio is proving extremely difficult, “I can say without reservation that the last mile is not only the hardest mile; it's also much harder than I expected.”
Polio is a hard virus to combat owing to its portability. It can spread quickly from one person to another and in exceptionally rare instances can be caught from the polio vaccine itself. Such huge steps towards eradicating the disease have been made that the world is at a ‘now or never’ moment; the disease will either be eradicated in the next few years or there are fears that it could begin to re-emerge in a number of countries which have already eliminated the virus.
Bill Gates recognises what is at stake for global health, “Polio eradication is a proving ground, a test. It will reveal what human beings are capable of, and suggest how ambitious we can be about our future.”