01 February 2013
India’s success in wiping out polio was the clear toast at the prestigious Royal Institution hall of the UK on Tuesday night when billionaire Bill Gates hailed it as being "among the most impressive global health successes that has ever been".
Delivering this year’s Richard Dimbleby lecture (named after one of the founding broadcasters of the BBC) following in the footsteps of a list of illustrious predecessors that includes former US president Bill Clinton, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales, Gates said the world could see polio eradicated in the next 6 years.
According to him, with fewer than 250 new cases of the crippling disease reported in 2012, and just three countries (Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria) remaining where the virus is endemic, a global wipeout of polio was a clear possibility by 2018.
As photographs of Indian polio vaccinators wading through waist deep flood waters in the Madhubani district of Bihar, carrying vaccines in cold boxes on their heads shot up on the giant screen inside the hall, Gates said, "India initially like most other countries started by vaccinating children coming into clinics. But far too many children never see the clinic in India.
"So they realized that the only way to get vaccination coverage rates up is to go out into the community, from door to door and find children to vaccinate."
He added, "This is not easy in a country of over a billion people. India is 15 times larger than UK with the most severe terrain and weather conditions in the world where 75,000 children are born every day.
"This is why India’s polio programme was so large, employing 2 million people paid, almost entirely by the government.
"India’s accomplishment in wiping out polio in 2011 is therefore among greatest health successes that has ever been."