Nigeria has been free of polio for an
entire year, thanks to an aggressive vaccination policy supported by the Gates
The world’s biggest philanthropic
organisation has dedicated itself to eradicating polio by 2018, and CEO Dr Sue
Hellman says Pakistan and Afghanistan are now the “last frontiers” in this
In 2014, India, a polio hotspot five years
ago, declared itself polio-free prompting Bill Gates to describe this as “the
greatest global health achievement I have ever witnessed”.
polio will mean that we have wiped out one of humanity’s oldest scourges,”
Hellman told a group of African journalists on the eve of the release of her annual
reflecting on the foundation’s work.
The Gates Foundation supports vaccination
campaigns worldwide and by last year, it estimated that the lives of seven
million children had been saved as a result of expanded access to vaccines.
The foundation is also heavily invested in
the search for new vaccines to address some of the world’s biggest health
problems – HIV, tuberculosis and malaria.
The reason for this, says Hellman, is that
the foundation wants to address where poverty is hitting hardest.
“We believe that all lives have equal
value, and that everyone has the right to live a healthy and productive life,”
Hellman said. “We don’t believe it is possible to live a healthy and productive
life if you are struggling with issues such as maternal and child mortality.”
But the foundation has also realised that
it needs to invest in ensuring that people had access to vaccines.
“New vaccines are not enough. We have made
a shift, not just to support innovative research but how to get [vaccines] to
people,” said Hellman. This included investing in “supply chain, social
marketing, communication and health system strengthening”.
Hellman said she was optimistic about Africa’s
future, particularly as it had made “pleasing progress” in reducing maternal
and child deaths and infectious diseases.
The World Health Organisation announced
last week that life expectancy in Africa had increased by 9.4 years between
2000 and 2015, driven mainly by “improvements in child survival, progress in
malaria control and expanded access to antiretrovirals for treatment of HIV”. –
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Image (resized): Julien Harneis, Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0