By REBECCA BLUMENSTEIN and KHADEEJA SAFDAR
Jan. 22, 2016 | Wall Street Journal
DAVOS, Switzerland—The world may well see its last case of polio in 2016, Bill and Melinda Gates said Friday, an event that would start a countdown toward the official eradication of the highly contagious and crippling disease.
“It’s possible that the last case will be in 2016,” Mr. Gates said. “We need some good execution and a little bit of luck.”
The co-chairs of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation laid out their agenda for the year ahead in an interview with The Wall Street Journal on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Polio-eradication leaders have made tremendous progress in the past few years, the couple noted. The World Health Organization said last year that Nigeria had successfully stopped transmission of polio in the country. That has left just two countries—Afghanistan and Pakistan—that still haven’t eliminated transmission of wild poliovirus, the cause of most cases of polio. If there are no more cases after 2016, polio-eradication leaders will meet their pushed-back goal of eradicating the disease in 2019. The WHO considers a disease to be eradicated if there are no cases for three years.
But ridding Pakistan of polio remains a huge challenge. At least 15 people were killed in a suicide attack on a polio-vaccination center in southwestern Pakistan earlier this month. In recent years, polio workers in Pakistan have been targeted by militants who accuse them of working as spies for the U.S. government.