Bill and Melinda Gates to pay off Nigeria’s $76 million polio debt

Nigeria, which accounted for more than half of all polio cases in 2012, reported zero new cases of the infectious disease in 2017. 

UNICEF health consultant Hadiza Waya (R) tries to immunize a child during a vaccination campaign against polio in northwest Nigeria. (Photo: Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images)

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation plans to pay off the $76 million debt that Nigeria owes Japan for resources used to eradicate polio.

It marks yet another investment by the Gates Foundation in the fight against the ancient disease. In 2017, the Gates Foundation reported it had so far spent a total of $3 billion on anti-polio efforts.

“You might be wondering why we're spending so much money when there's only 12 cases,” said Jay Wenger, a medical doctor who leads the Gates Foundation's polio eradication effort, to CNBC. “We want to be sure we finish it off.”

In the foundation’s 2017 annual letter, Bill Gates was optimistic that the end of polio was near, adding:

“...ending polio will save lives—through the magic of zero. When polio is eradicated, the world can dedicate polio funds to improving child health, and the lessons from polio will lead to better immunization systems for other diseases.”

According to Quartz Africa, the Gates Foundation had agreed in 2014 to pay off Nigeria’s debt over a 20-year period if the country could achieve “more than 80% vaccination coverage in at least one round each year in very high risk areas across 80% of the country’s local government areas.”

The efforts seem to have paid off. Nigeria, which accounted for more than half of all polio cases in 2012, reported zero new cases of the infectious disease in 2017. But achieving widespread immunization in the African nation has been difficult.

One major factor that has contributed to the lingering of polio in Nigeria has been cultural opposition to immunization. This sentiment can, in part, be traced back to 2003 when a physician on a Nigerian government committee said Western medicine was corrupted and tainted by evildoers from America and their Western allies.”


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