CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on how the polio eradication effort was an important tool in fighting the outbreak
One of the scariest moments of last year’s Ebola outbreak for Susan Desmond-Hellmann, CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, was when Ebola arrived, by way of a business traveler, in Lagos. That the devastating and highly infectious disease had surfaced in the Nigerian megacity—an international hub and home to some 20 million people—posed any number of troubling scenarios.
“For people like me who followed Ebola, we weren’t sleeping at night specifically because of Nigeria,” says Desmond-Hellmann, a former cancer drug developer who joined the Gates Foundation, one of the world’s leading public health donors, in early 2014. She was speaking Wednesday morning at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit in Washington, D.C.
Yet, it’s much to the credit of her organization’s work—particularly the “polio surge” Gates and other partners, including Rotary and WHO, had running in Nigeria—that the epidemic was so quickly stamped out in the country. Nineteen people died of Ebola in Nigeria, compared to the thousands in neighboring West African nations.
The difference: Nigeria had a health infrastructure that was designed to eradicate polio. How did that become one of the most important and lucky breaks in the fight against Ebola?
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