Gates Rounds Up Money To Extinguish Polio

01.22.09 | FL News Team

With a little help from Bill Gates, polio may soon go the way of smallpox and vanish off the face of the earth. The Microsoft mogul is behind a 630-million-dollar push to force polio into permanent retreat. His Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation pledged 255-million, with Rotary International, Great Britain and Germany ponying up the rest to inoculate children against the crippling disease.

International efforts led by the World Health Organization have already cut polio cases by an impressive 99-percent in only a decade.  Last year, there were only 16-hundred cases around the world, down from 350-thousand cases in 1998. 

Once a worldwide scourge, polio strikes the nervous system, often crippling or killing young children. It's now found only in four countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Nigeria.  Nigeria alone accounts for half of new cases. The danger is that the disease has been spilling across borders and may revive if even a single case is overlooked.

Tracking down children in need of vaccinations is dangerous or at least difficult. The virus mostly survives now in the poorest, most chaotic regions. In a phone call with reporters, Gates noted that polio cases rose slightly in 2008 over the previous year.

In an address to a Rotary conference in San Diego, California, yesterday, Gates warned failure to finish the job would cost lives. He added, quote, "We don't let children die because it is fatiguing to save them."