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Gates Foundation Adopts Fight against Encephalitis

The fight against Japanese encephalitis, a bird-borne Asian virus that has left a deadly trail of death or more commonly survivors with brain damage has been adopted by the the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. //

Today the virus is expanding its geographic reach and threatens several billion people on the planet. Dr. Julie Jacobson, director of the Japanese encephalitis program at Seattle-based Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH) said, "This has been a disease of the world's poor."

According to Jacobson most of those killed or maimed by the virus have gone uncounted, misdiagnosed or regarded as the tragic, inevitable victims of an "orphan disease."

Today, the government of India celebrates with PATH for having immunized 9 million children against Japanese encephalitis that was part of a campaign aimed at reaching 11 million in high-risk districts.

Japanese encephalitis infects the brain and is likely to kill or cause permanent brain damage leading to serious illness in perhaps one in 25 infected, killing 30 percent and causing brain damage in perhaps 40 percent. Because of the poor monitoring of the disease it would be reasonable to expect that the annual death toll of 10,000 is a gross underestimate.

At present there is no viable treatment for the infection. Since children are at highest risk, the children of India are the ones being targeted for immunization.

"This is so exciting," said Jacobson, "For many years, at every twist and turn, it looked impossible. But now it's happening."

Credit for this goes in part to the $27 million grant which the Gates Foundation gave to PATH in 2003 to support a vaccination campaign in Asia. But the real reason behind its recent success is because Jacobson and her colleagues were willing to listen to Indian officials and change course.

In 2000, PATH received $25 million from the Gates Foundation to launch an immunization improv
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