In acknowledgment of his government’s efforts to keep Nigeria polio-free, Rotary on Wednesday in Abuja presented President Muhammadu Buhari with its Polio Eradication Champion Award.
Last year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) removed Nigeria from its list of polio-endemic countries after the African nation went one year without reporting a case of the disease. The last reported case of polio in Nigeria was July 24, 2014, in Kano State. Nigeria was the last country on the African continent to report active transmission of the wild poliovirus.
Shortly after taking office in July 2015, President Buhari demonstrated his personal commitment to ending polio by publically immunising his young granddaughter. In September, he launched polio immunisation campaigns in his hometown of Daura, Katsina, by vaccinating local children. Mostly recently, he convened a Presidential Task Force on Polio Eradication, through which 36 Nigerian State Governors reaffirmed their commitment to keeping Nigeria polio-free.
“Progress against polio in Nigeria, while a tremendous achievement, remains fragile. The country must ensure high-quality polio campaigns and surveillance activity for at least another two years, or risk the return of this disease,” said Rotary International President K.R. Ravindran. “President Buhari and the Nigerian government have shown they are equal to this challenge, maintaining strong commitment and public support for polio immunisation in the face of zero cases.”
Rotary established the Polio Eradication Champion Award in 1995 to recognise leaders and others who have made significant contributions to the global eradication of polio. Past recipients include Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan; Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany; David Cameron, Prime Minister of Britain; Enda Kenny, Prime Minister of Ireland; and Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General.
Rotary launched its polio immunisation programme PolioPlus in 1985, and in 1988 became a spearheading partner in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative with the WHO, UNICEF, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since the initiative launched in 1988, the incidence of polio has plummeted by more than 99.9 percent, from about 350,000 cases a year to less than 75 confirmed in 2015.
Rotary’s roles within the initiative are fundraising, advocacy, and social mobilisation. To date, Rotary has contributed more than US$1.5 billion to ending polio, including more than $225 million in grants to support polio eradication activities in Nigeria and countless volunteer hours by members of Nigeria’s 311 Rotary clubs. To date, more than 2.5 billion children worldwide have been immunised against the paralysing and potentially fatal disease.
Along with on-the-ground support, including programme oversight at all levels, the government of Nigeria has invested more than $112 million in its own polio eradication activities.