Bill Gates: Nigeria Can Stop Polio Despite Setback

18 August, 2016

Bill Gates says the world can beat polio -- despite two new cases of the disease in Nigeria.

Gates, who started Microsoft, spoke to VOA's Africa 54 program. He said he was disappointed to hear of two new cases in Borno, located in Nigeria's northern Lake Chad region.

But Gates said he is optimistic that the whole world will soon be polio free. He said he is hopeful, despite how hard it is to find kids in areas that are not safe.

Northern Nigeria is where Boko Haram militants operate.

"We need to access kids, and we need for people to understand the importance of getting all the kids to take this oral polio vaccine."

Bill and Melinda Gates.
Bill and Melinda Gates.

Nigerian officials said the virus was found in two children from Borno State earlier this year. The discovery came days before Nigeria would have marked two years without a case of polio.

Ministry of Health officials told VOA that the army would help health teams to vaccinate children in Northern Nigeria.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has donated $3.5 billion since 2000 to stop polio. Forbes Magazine lists Bill Gates as the richest person in the world.

In 1999, the foundation said polio was present in 125 countries and paralyzed 350,000 people every year.

Last year, Gates said, there were 19 cases in the world.

"This is, by far, the lowest year of polio cases ever and we're getting smarter all the time about how we find the villages, how we reach out to the traditional leaders..."

Gates said his goal is to allow "kids in poor countries" to be as "healthy as kids in the rest of the world." That requires better health care, better food and more education in poor nations, he said.

"There's still a lot to be done," Gates said. But he said it is important to talk about how much progress has been made in recent years.

Gates told VOA that 25 years ago, about 12 million children under the age of five died every year. "Now," he said, "that number is under six million."

Polio used to strike fear into every parent before 1952 because there is no cure. But Dr. Jonas Salk found a vaccine. These days, kids no longer need a painful injection to make them safe from the virus. A few drops taken by mouth can prevent a lifetime of paralysis.

Gates said it is important to spread the vaccination program into northeastern Nigeria, along with Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"Well, the simple thing is that if we get every kid to take the vaccine, then the disease drops to zero and zero is, you know, [a] really magic number."

The benefits of making the world polio free are major, Gates said.

"No kid will be paralyzed, no parents will have to worry about this disease, which, you know, back in its heyday, was very, very, very widespread..."

Gates spoke about where he sees that effort now.

"So getting the coverage level up, not having large pockets of children, like in that Lake Chad region, that we're missing with the vaccines, that's what we have to deal with. And we certainly see great progress on that in Asia, and now, you know, we've got to redouble our efforts in Africa."

I'm Mehrnoush Karimian-Ainsworth.

Kenneth Schwartz reported this story for VOANews. Bruce Alpert adapted his report for Learning English. Pete Heinlein was the editor.

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Words in This Story

disappointed -- n. feeling bad about a situation

optimistic -- n. feeling hopeful about a situation

oral -- adj. of or relating to the mouth

paralyze - v. to make a person unable to move or feel all or part of the body

magic -- n. a special power or skill

heyday -- n. the time something was at its greatest strength