By Haruna Gimba
Rotary International has presented President Muhammadu Buhari with its Polio Eradication Champion Award, in acknowledgment of his government’s efforts to keep Nigeria polio-free.
In a statement distributed by African Press Organization, President of Rotary International, K.R. Ravindran said President Buhari and the Nigerian government have shown they are equal to this challenge, maintaining strong commitment and public support for polio immunization in the face of zero cases.
He said: “There is progress against polio in Nigeria, while a tremendous achievement, remains fragile. The country must ensure high-quality polio campaigns and surveillance activity for at leastanother two years, or risk the return of this disease.”
Last year, World Health Organization (WHO) removed Nigeria from its list of polio-endemic countries after the country 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 ofthe wild poliovirus.
Shortly after taking office in July 2015, President Buhari demonstrated his personal commitment to ending polio by publically immunizing his young granddaughter.
In September, he launched polio immunization campaigns in his hometown of Daura, Katsina state, 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.
According to the statement, Rotary established the Polio Eradication Champion Award in 1995 to recognize leaders and others who have made significant contributions to the global eradication of polio.
Past recipients include; Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister, David Cameron, Prime Minister of Ireland, Enda Kenny and UN Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon,.
The Rotary launched its polio immunization program 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.
According to the Rotary 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 mobilization. It 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.
“Along with on-the-ground support, including program oversight at all levels, the government of Nigeria has invested more than $112 million in its own polio eradication activities,” the statement read.