Sunday, January 9, 2011

Gates Foundation gives $1 million to fight polio oubreak in Republic of Congo

From AFP:

WASHINGTON — The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has stepped in to help fight an outbreak of polio in the Republic of Congo, which had not seen any cases of the disease since 2000, an official said Jan. 7.

The charitable organization set up by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and his wife Melinda has made a grant of $1 million to UNICEF, which is working with the World Health Organization to try to control the outbreak of polio in the Pointe Noire area of Congo, the foundation's Walt Orenstein told AFP.

The crippling disease is believed to have spread to Congo from Angola, which had also been polio-free until the disease was "re-imported" to the southwest African country from India, Orenstein, the Gates Foundation's deputy director for immunization programs, said.

India, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria are the only countries in the world that have "never interrupted polio virus transmission," Orenstein said.

Nigeria and India, which he called "major exporters of polio", have made huge strides in fighting the disease, but polio from the two countries is still "reseeding" other countries and hampering the global effort to wipe out the illness once and for all.

"The whole Congo outbreak came from a reseeding of Angola from India," Orenstein said. "The take-home message here is that polio anywhere is a threat everywhere.

"Our goal in the eradication initiative is to finish the job. In doing so, we will not only be giving a gift to today's children but to children forever, because they will no longer be under threat from polio."

The one-million-dollar grant to UNICEF for the Congolese outbreak will be used to mount a vaccination campaign and build infrastructure to ensure polio vaccine and other medicines are kept at the right temperature.

The money will also be used to provide other medical supplies, such as respiratory machines for people affected by polio, which enters the central nervous system and damages and destroys cells in the spinal cord and brain that control the muscles.

The disease can be fatal, and those who survive are often left paralyzed or with atrophied and twisted limbs after the disease attacks the body's muscles.

According to the Polio Global Eradication Initiative, there were 24 confirmed cases of polio in Congo in 2010, when the disease was first reported to have reappeared in the west African country.

At least 476 cases of paralysis due to polio have been reported in Congo, and at least 179 deaths have been associated with what experts call an "explosive outbreak."