/ 27 November 2012

Gates joins Africa’s richest man to fight polio in Nigeria

A female health official tries to drop a polio vaccine into the mouth of a child at Kaiama town in Bayelsa State
A health official tries to drop a polio vaccine into the mouth of a child at Kaiama town in Bayelsa State.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates's foundation and that of Aliko Dangote, the Nigerian businessman labeled Africa's richest by Forbes, announced an alliance on Monday during a ceremony in Kano, Nigeria's second city.

Nigeria is one of only three countries still considered to have endemic polio, alongside Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Under the four-year alliance, the Bill and Melinda Gates and Dangote foundations would provide funding, equipment and technical support to the Kano state government to strengthen polio immunisation.

Eradicating polio "will be Kano's gift to Nigeria and Nigeria's gift to the world", Jeff Raikes, the head of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said at the ceremony.

Dangote, whose Dangote Group includes interests ranging from cement to flour and real estate, said: "Myself and Bill Gates met in New York and agreed to partner and intervene in polio eradication."

"There is no reason for any one of us not to assist in keeping our people healthy," said Dangote, who is from Kano.

Forbes has labeled Dangote Africa's richest man, while the magazine says Gates is the richest man from the United States – as well as "the planet's most generous person".

The amounts the two foundations intend to commit in the partnership were not disclosed.

Since 2003, Kano has been especially hard hit by the transmission of the polio virus in Nigeria following the state government's suspension of immunisations for 13 months.

The suspension followed allegations by some Muslim clerics that the vaccine was laced with substances that could render girls infertile as part of US-led Western plot to depopulate Africa.

Despite the resumption of polio immunisations, Kano has continued to record polio cases as many parents still reject the vaccine.

According to the most recent World Health Organisation weekly report on polio, Nigeria accounts for 104 of the 193 cases so far recorded worldwide this year, with Kano having 22 cases.

In 2011, Nigeria recorded 62 polio cases, including 17 in Kano.

The WHO said earlier this year that an Islamist insurgency in the country's northeast was harming efforts to eradicate polio due to insecurity.

Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation and its largest oil producer, has pledged to stop polio virus transmission by the end of 2013 although it has failed to meet previous deadlines to stamp out the crippling disease. – Sapa-AFP