Microsoft founder Bill Gates said Wednesday that India could successfully lead the way in eradicating polio and that his foundation would continue to provide resources for polio eradication in India and other countries despite the economic downturn, reported dpa.
Gates was addressing a news briefing in the Indian capital after visiting several health centres to observe polio surveillance, vaccination and eradication activities.
A highly infectious viral disease, polio affects the nervous system and can lead to paralysis and even death in about 5 to 10 per cent of cases. The disease usually infects children and can be prevented through immunization.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has so far committed more than 400 million dollars worldwide to support polio eradication, including several projects in India. It also supports an AIDS initiative in the country.
Gates met Indian health officials and experts, including federal Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss on Tuesday and assured them that his foundation would support new strategies for eradicating polio.
The number of polio cases worldwide has fallen by more than 99 per cent since 1988, but they still occur in four countries - India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.
There were 496 confirmed cases of polio in India so far in 2008, accounting for 35 per cent of cases worldwide. The northern states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar accounted for 96.6 per cent of polio cases in India in 2007, according to the National Polio Surveillance Project bulletin.
The government is considering introducing an inactivated polio vaccine (IPV), which needs to be injected, alongside the ongoing oral immunization drive in these two states. Gates told Ramadoss that he would support the initiative.
"Polio can be successfully eradicated with India leading the way. Being successful in polio is of incredible importance to public health. So it is important we do everything possible to accelerate eradication," Gates said at the press briefing.
"So much work has been done, so many resources have been committed yet the challenge is still daunting. It is encouraging that the government understands the urgency of the opportunity and is open to new approaches," Gates said.