On behalf of the Nigeria National PolioPlus Committee of Rotary International, I welcome you to this historical celebration. It’s been a long time coming. I want to give gratitude to God for keeping all of us to witness
this day. Many who stared this journey with us are no more here today. It’s been a long tortuous journey with lots of highs and lows- a journey that started with Rotary’s dream of a polio free world in 1985. You see, we Rotarians are dreamers; dreamers of the type the famous Beatles described in their song IMAGINE in the early 70’s, dreamers of a world at peace. Not only peace of the absence of war but peace in its true sense of the word-food enough for everyone, adequate health care for all, mothers giving birth safely to babies and the babies surviving to be adults and having access to good quality education and taking care of our planet to ensure that just as it has served to sustain us it will continue to serve several generations unborn. Yes, Rotary is the dreamer that sold the idea of a polio free world to WHO in 1985 which culminated in the WHA declaring world polio eradication a priority in 1988. WHO projected it will require a commitment of $120 million to eradicate polio by the year 2000.
Rotary mobilised its members and we raised more than twice that amount by 1987. This partnership for good was expanded to become the GPEI comprising ROTARY, WHO, UNICEF, CDC and in about the past decade the BMGF. GAVI, the vaccine alliance has also now formally joined our group. We started with the daunting task of eliminating polio from a world where 350,000 children were being paralyzed by the wild polio virus in 125 countries
annually in all regions of the world and here we are today with less than 200 children in just two countries.
This is a great milestone for the polio eradication effort-another region of the world declared polio free. Perhaps we would not have reached this milestone at this time but for the clarion call of President Mandela spurred by the Rotary leadership. It was four years to the target date of 2000 and the wild polio virus was still paralyzing 70,000 children annually all across Africa and no mass campaign had started.
President Mandela joined Rotary’s then President Herb Brown at a press conference to urge all African leaders to
implement National Immunisation days (NIDS). Later that year Mandela launched the influential KICK POLIO
OUT OF AFRICA campaign with 1996/1997 Rotary President Louis Giay
and Rotary Foundation trustee chair Rajendra Saboo, who till date comes to Africa yearly to support the program with surgical teams for polio corrective surgery.
The response was immediate. The campaign raised such awareness and commitment than at least 30 African countries organised their first NIDs and 420 million African children received the oral polio vaccine in 1996. Madiba led by example and even gave the precious OPV drops to children himself. There have been many challenges on the
way to reaching this milestone of Africa polio-free certification; vaccine opposition, poor funding, unfriendly terrain and insecurity which posed and still poses a great threat to our front line workers who ensure the vaccine reaches our children come rain or shine, floods and threats to life. This has led to the loss of several lives of our front line workers who have paid the supreme sacrifice so our children can be saved from the ravages of the wild polio virus.
Please let us observe a moment’s silence in their honour.
We are at this milestone of Africa polio free celebration today because of the dogged commitment of the government
of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to polio eradication over the past two decades.
We appreciate and commend President Muhammadu Buhari for leading by example and publicly immunizing his
grandchild and participating in NIDs activities to immunize children. As I always
quote “you cannot shave a man’s head in his absence”. We are grateful to Mr. President. Our traditional and religious leaders have been the game changers in ensuring acceptance of the vaccine and we owe them a debt of gratitude
Our very complementary roles within the partnership in Nigeria- the government represented by NPHCDA, WHO, UNICEF, CDC, BMGF and GAVI have yielded this very joyful result. We salute your commitment and tenacity.
As we bask in the euphoria of the moment we must keep our commitment to keep polio at zero in Nigeria with consistent funding, improvement in our routine immunization coverage and continued advocacy until we achieve our final goal: a world where no child will ever be paralyzed again by the wild polio virus.
Thank you all for honoring our invitation.
DR. TUNJI FUNSHO
Being the text of an address
delivered by the Chairman
NNPPC at the Africa Polio-Free
Certification Celebration in
Abuja on 29th August,2020.