Meanwhile, Bill Gates is in Nigeria to boost the polio eradication effort

Children disabled by polio begging in Abuja

The global campaign to wipe out polio is 99 percent complete, but that remaining one percent has become a frustrating game of whack-a-mole.

China just this week has reported polio cases — the first since 1999. Health experts say the virus spread to western China from Pakistan, and threatens to spread even further.

Eradicating polio is one of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s top priorities and Nigeria is one of four countries where the virus continues to spread. So Gates is now in Nigeria, urging government leaders and community organizations to whack this mole for good.

Gates yesterday visited Kebbi state in northwestern Nigeria where, according to AllAfrica.com, he signed a “memorandum of understanding” with officials there to commit to finally getting rid of polio. Yeah, that should do it.

The agreement doesn’t mean much, of course, if Nigerians themselves aren’t already committed to ridding the disease themselves. Part of the problem has been the conflict between north and south, between different political factions, in Nigeria. And there is some deep (and somewhat legitimate) mistrust of government and government-endorsed programs, especially in the north.

Still, I think Gates visit will help. His willingness to go to northern Nigeria, to use his star power (yes, he has star power) will show Nigerians that the world’s richest man cares about the health of some of the world’s poorest people. That’s a good thing and will make a difference. Even if that memo doesn’t.

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Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org, follow him on Twitter @tompaulson and/or send a comment below.