Billionaire philanthropist and former Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates is calling on leaders in African countries with low vaccination rates to step up their efforts to provide inoculations that can save millions of lives.
“You have to have developing countries act to take the vaccines and get them out to all the kids,” said Gates, in an interview with Agence France-Presse.
Citing low polio vaccination rates in northern Nigeria, Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gates faulted leaders for “not putting good people on it, not tracking their results, not even getting out to parts of the country.”
Gates’ interview remarks were in line with an address he gave in Geneva Tuesday to the World Health Assembly. He peppered his address with examples of vaccination success stories.
For instance, the Indian news organization PTI reports, Gates praised the Serum Institute of India for becoming the world’s largest producer of the measles vaccine and for making low-cost meningitis, diarrhea and pneumonia vaccines.
Gates also said polio could be wiped out in two to four years. The disease remains pervasive in only four countries — Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Nigeria — down from 125 in 1988. “The long fight against polio proves just how powerful vaccine technology can be,” Gates said.
The software billionaire, who has donated $10 billion to vaccinate children worldwide, called on all countries to aim for 90 percent immunization coverage against diseases such as polio, meningitis and pneumonia, according to Reuters.
He also appealed to drug manufacturers to provide lower-cost vaccines in poorer countries. “If donors are generous, we will prevent 4 million deaths by 2015,” Gates said. “By 2020, we can prevent 10 million deaths.”
The global vaccination rate has increased in recent years, according to a 2009 World Health Organization report, but coverage remains weak in some areas. In 2007, the report said, vaccines to combat diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus covered only 74 percent of the targeted populations in Africa, and only 69 percent in Southeast Asia.