By Elizabeth Willoughby on
“In the past two decades, polio cases around the world have been reduced by 99 percent,” he says. “If we can get rid of the last 1 percent, polio will become the second major infectious disease, after smallpox, that has ever been completely eliminated.”
But the battle is not a sure win yet. Lapses in vaccinations, incomplete inoculations of the four oral doses required, and a lack of funding continue to pose a threat.
“Eradication is top because it’s the weak link that holds you back,” says Gates. “If you just have one state or even part of a state that’s not doing its job, then the disease can flourish. Since there was so much virus in Nigeria over a period of years, it did spread out to most of the neighboring countries.”
In 2003, a rumor in Nigeria that the vaccine sterilized women caused a severe drop in the vaccination rate. By 2006, polio cases had increased by 400%. It was necessary for religious and community leaders to step in and address the cultural distrust, to encourage people to take the vaccine. The result is what has Gates so optimistic – according to the Foundation’s website, the number of cases of polio in Nigeria this year is only three, down from 312 cases in 2009.
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