Polio eradication ‘a test of human capability’, says Bill Gates

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BILL Gates will vow to help eradicate childhood polio when he delivers this year’s Richard Dimbleby Lecture tonight.

The Microsoft chairman, who launched the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, believes that society needs to act quickly, describing the mission as “a test” for the human race.

In 2012, the total number of polio cases worldwide dropped from 650 in 2011 to fewer than 250. There are now only three countries – Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria – which still have polio.

Mr Gates will say: “Most people in developed countries know of poliomyelitis as a disease that used to paralyse lots of children.

“But it isn’t merely a historical curiosity – it still strikes children today. We are now working to wipe the virus off the face of the earth, and we have almost succeeded.”

He firmly believes in the power of vaccination, saying universal coverage is one of the key aims of his foundation, which has invested more than £15.8 million in grants.

“They are one of the leading causes of the plummeting child mortality figures,” according to Mr Gates. “They are very effective at preventing disease, relatively cheap, and relatively easy to deliver. And yet millions and millions of children don’t get them. This is still stunning to me.”

He is expected to say the final push to stamp out polio will be “the hardest mile”. “Polio eradication is a proving ground, a test,” Mr Gates will say in tonight’s lecture, to be delivered at the Royal Institution in London.

“It will reveal what human beings are capable of, and suggest how ambitious we can be about our future.”