Nigeria could be declared a polio-free nation in 2018 even though a national eradication campaign has had to contend with an insurgency in the north, Bill Gates says.
Gates also said that the country could cut the number of polio cases to zero next year
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation supports the global initiative to wipe out polio, which includes a campaign in Nigeria, one of three nations where the crippling virus is still endemic. The other two are Pakistan and Afghanistan.
“We have got all the challenges up in northern Nigeria, the violence from Boko Haram, and the distraction of an upcoming election,” Gates said in a telephone interview, referring to an Islamist rebel group that has in the past targeted vaccination workers, and to Nigeria’s national vote next year.
“Despite all that, we’ve got by far the lowest numbers of cases ever,” he said. “We hope by the end of next year we’d be at zero.” He added that if there were no more cases for three years after that, Nigeria could be certified clear in 2018.
The technology billionaire-turned-global philanthropist who was speaking last week in Addis Ababa University on development in Africa, mainly in health and agriculture said; “We’ve got a pretty optimistic view of what can happen in Africa in those two areas.”
Speaking on the high mortality diseases worldwide, Gates said that in health work, one of his most high-profile programmes is the fight against malaria, a disease that infects more than 200 million people a year and kills more than 600,000 people. Nine out of 10 deaths are in Africa.
He said the foundation has a campaign which includes promoting bed nets, protecting homes with insecticide sprays and using the artemisinin drug in the treatment to bring down fatalities.
“On the negative side, we have artemisinin resistance emerging in southeast Asia, and that can take away the very best drug tool we have right now,” he said, adding that there were efforts to contain that problem from spreading.
British drug-maker GlaxoSmithKline is seeking regulatory approval for the world’s first vaccine, known as RTS,S, which has been supported by Gates and which he said would help in the battle although it was only “partially effective.”
“We are investing in other malarial vaccines but just given the complexity and time for doing trials we won’t have a second-generation vaccine for like four or five years,” he said.