(Updates with comments from Gates in second, last paragraphs.)
Jan. 12 (Bloomberg) -- Bill Gates, the billionaire co- founder of Microsoft Inc., said India achieved a “major milestone” in its fight against polio by marking a year since the last recorded case of the disease in the country.
“India’s story illustrates the possibility of tremendous progress even in the face of difficult economic times, a challenging environment and competing development needs,” Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has spent $1.36 billion globally to help eradicate the disease, said in an e-mailed statement today.
The year without polio transmission is the longest such period in India, which till as recently as 2009, had the most cases of the disease in the world. If no new cases emerge and the virus doesn’t show up in environmental tests for one more month, the country could be taken off the list of the four remaining nations where polio is endemic, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative said.
The body was formed by national governments, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children’s Fund, Rotary International and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1988. The other three countries where polio cases have continued without a break are Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.
India reported one case of polio on Jan. 13 last year from the state of West Bengal, compared with 42 cases in 2010. Two more years without fresh cases are needed for the country to be declared polio free, according to the Geneva-based agency.
The polio virus is shed by infected people in feces and can spread as a result of poor sanitation and hygiene. Millions of people were paralyzed by the disease in the 20th century before vaccines became widely available in the 1950s.
The international effort to end polio has cost more than $8 billion to date, according to Rotary International. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative faces a shortfall of $410 million in 2012, according to its website.
“By continuing to raise the funds needed to run the campaign, world leaders can ultimately save billions of dollars and help to ensure that no child ever suffers from this crippling disease again,” Gates said.
--Editors: Abhay Singh, John Chacko
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