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Is Bill Gates' fight against polio quixotic or practical?

January 31, 2011|By Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times
  • Microsoft founder Bill Gates, co-founder and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, addresses the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 28.
Microsoft founder Bill Gates, co-founder and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda… (Johannes Eisele / AFP/Getty…)

Bill Gates is taking a tough stance on polio -- and not everyone in the research community agrees with it.

In the philanthropist's annual letter, in which he highlights the key issues he's focusing on as co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the founder of Microsoft began his yearly note on the issue of polio, so that it appeared above malaria and HIV/AIDS.

Polio, which once infected, paralyzed and killed countless children every year, is now all but eradicated: According to the World Health Organization, the estimated number of polio cases per year dropped from 350,000 in 1988 to less than 1,500 in 2010.

There would be many benefits to eradicating the disease entirely, Gates argues -- not just medical and financial, but moral.

"Success will energize the field of global health by showing that investments in health lead to amazing victories," he wrote. "The eradication effort illustrates so well how a major advance in the human condition requires resolve and courageous leadership. To win these big important fights, partnerships, money, science, politics and delivery in developing countries have to come together on a global scale."

But not everyone agrees. Some critics say Gates' money and efforts would be better spent on solving other major issues, according to a New York Times article.

"Although caseloads are down more than 99% since the campaign began in 1985," the article says, "getting rid of the last 1% has been like trying to squeeze Jell-O to death. As the vaccination fist closes in one country, the virus bursts out in another."


Think exterminating polio is a cause worthy of great resources? Or should such efforts be focused elsewhere? Post your thoughts below.

Follow me on Twitter @LAT_aminakhan.

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