Authored by Jon Mercer in Charity and Philanthropy
Published on 01-29-2009
Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, says he is very proud to announce that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will be donating $225 million toward the urgent need to find a cure for polio. The grant will go to Rotary International and is one of the largest grants ever in US history. The eradication of polio has eluded health care experts for many years, but now with the new grant it is conceivable that the disease could be wiped out completely in the next five years.
Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, made the announcement Wednesday at a meeting of the Rotary International Service Organization in San Diego, California. For twenty years the World Health Organization, along with other groups, has tried in vain to eradicate the disease. Rotary International members have raised over $600 million to help eradicate the virus, still, their 1988 deadline is long overdue.
Since 1988, the numbers of countries that are still struggling with the virus have dropped from 125 to just four: Nigeria, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. 1,488 of the 1,625 cases of polio reported around the world are accounted for by these four countries, and analysts say that it will cost an estimated $2 billion to wipe out the disease totally once and for all. One reason for the high price tag is because the disease is prevalent in areas that are plagued by war, famine, natural disasters, extreme poverty, and political interference.
If the virus is not eradicated totally, it will likely continue to spread to unprotected children. Actually, the virus was once completely eradicated from fifteen countries in Africa and Asia; but now there are 137 new cases reported in these regions because of travelers or immigrants bringing in the disease from the four countries listed above. Polio is caused by a highly infectious virus that invades the nervous system, and while the majority of people infected with the polio virus do not become ill, about one in 200 develops an irreversible paralysis.
Gates said that a victory over polio would give global health efforts a real boost, much in the same way that the 1977 elimination of smallpox did. “The kind of energy that came out of the smallpox success and that will come out of the polio success will keep global health on the agenda.” Gates also said “we have the tools and the strategy, and we’re getting very close.”