Experts: 'Donor fatigue' possible if polio not eradicated

Although the world is close to eradicating polio, experts are concerned about the risk of failure, saying it could have consequences for confidence in health battles far beyond the disease.

Bill Gates has donated money to try and wipe out polio; however, earlier this year, he learned at a meeting with the WHO that Polio was spreading across Africa--even after he gave $700 million to try to wipe out the disease, the Wall Street Journal reported at the time. This news caused him to change his polio strategy. His new plan includes both waging a war on polio while simultaneously improving hygiene--something that doesn't eliminate any one disease, but might improve the overall health of people in developing countries.

The WSJ noted that the polio fight is a lesson for Gates' foundation, which is funding other vaccines that could face similar setbacks. And some experts fear that it could cause donors to become weary. "The failure to eradicate polio so far means there is a smell of a suspicion about all vaccine initiatives," says Professor David Salisbury, former chair of the World Health Organization's Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on Immunization, as quoted by Reuters. "That's why we must achieve polio eradication. We need to demonstrate that it can be done."

Salisbury and others say there is "donor fatigue" in global health projects, adding that the failure to wipe out polio risks making that worse. In 1988, when the WHO and its partners formed the Global Polio Eradication Initiative to lead the battle, polio was endemic in 125 countries. Now it is endemic in just four countries--India, Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan--and there has been a 99 percent reduction in cases since 1988.

- get more from Reuters
read the WSJ's story
- here's the weekly polio update (Oct. 5)