In one of its largest grants ever, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation donated $255 million Wednesday toward the push to eradicate polio, a goal that has eluded world health agencies for decades but that many still consider doable, possibly within five years.
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates made the announcement of the grant to Rotary International at a meeting of the service organization in San Diego. The World Health Organization, in collaboration with other groups, has spent 20 years and $6 billion trying to eradicate the polio virus, aided by $600 million raised by Rotary members. The 2000 target for elimination set in 1988 is already eight years overdue.
The number of countries in which the virus is still endemic has dropped since 1988 from more than 125 to four — Nigeria, India, Pakistan and, to a lesser extent, Afghanistan. These four countries accounted for 1,488 of the 1,625 polio cases reported in 2008.
Fifteen other countries in Africa and Asia that once had eliminated the disease reported a total of 137 cases after the virus was reintroduced by travelers or immigrants. …