Why is Gates Interested in Monitoring Acute Flaccid Paralysis?

Acute Flaccid Paralysis is a condition that most people are unaware of, so why is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation giving the International Medical Corps $102,345 to bolster the monitoring of AFP in Cameroon, Africa? This money is on top of a November 2014 grant to World Vision of $1,023,001 to be used in South Sudan and Angola that is going in part to ”community-based Acute Flaccid Paralysis (AFP) surveillance.”

AFP is a condition in which a person’s limbs become flaccid or limp. It can start as loss of muscle tone, cramps and numbness or tingling in the palms or soles of the feet. Fever and troubled breathing can accompany bladder dysfunction. AFP can be caused by a range of infections and from a variety of infectious and noninfectious causes including botulism, curare, Guillain–Barré syndrome, West Nile virus, Japanese encephalitis transmitted by mosquitoes, and polio, a disease that the Gates Foundation has targeted as a “top priority.”   

Related: Gates Foundation: Grants for Global Health

Nigeria, thought to be the last reservoir of polio in Africa, had only six cases of polio last year, and none since July, so Africa could soon be polio-free. Since the disease is now so rare on the continent, Gates deems it critical to identify and analyze any cases of AFP found in Africa, especially in areas that are isolated or difficult to reach, so that any new chains of polio transmission will be eliminated. The foundation is also hoping to increase AFP surveillance in Benin, Chad, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, and Niger.

However, there is another reason for the Gates efforts. Vaccine deniers have beset Bill and Melinda Gates. They are ideal targets. In 2010, Gates declared this decade to be that of vaccines. He and his wife pledged a full billion dollars of their foundation’s wealth to vaccinate children. “Vaccines are a miracle—with just a few doses, they can prevent deadly diseases for a lifetime,” said Melinda Gates. “We’ve made vaccines our No. 1 priority at the Gates Foundation because we’ve seen firsthand their incredible impact on children’s lives.”

The deniers have responded. One headline screamed, “131 African Children Vaccinated at Gunpoint – Do Bill Gates and Paul Offit Approve?” Here’s another: “Gates Foundation partner forces vaccines on Malawian children at gunpoint, arrests parents.” But by far the most distressing is one that claimed that the polio vaccine in India caused 47,500 paralysis cases, published in 2012, the same year that polio was declared eradicated in that country. By monitoring AFP and determining what causes the condition, vaccination efforts can be employed without generating needless worry, until polio is finally eradicated from the Earth.