The following was published in Vanguard on July 1, 2013. To see the original article, please click here.

Rotary seeks greater cooperation on polio

By Emeka AGINAM - Portugal

By the time the just concluded 2013 Rotary International Convention held in Lisbon, Portugal, was getting to a close last week, leaders of the global fight to eradicate the disease rose up from the forum calling for more global efforts to eradicate the virus.

The leaders were particularly concerned about the prevalence of the virus in three countries including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.

For one thing, the annual convention featured success stories, exchange of ideas and strategies to promote peace through volunteer service to end the ugly disease.

Total eradication

By 2018, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative is expected to have achieved total eradication of polio globally, even as Rotarians at the event gave the assurance that the goal would be a reality.

Speaker after speaker who gathered in the oldest city of Western Europe for convention featuring the theme: “Lisbon – A Harbor for Peace” noted that unless public and private partnerships were involved, the fight against the deadly disease may be farfetched.

Major concern of the forum that attracted no fewer than 21,000 Rotarians from about 150 countries across the globe, was that those countries where the disease still exists were troubled by political unrests, violence and social customs that can hinder the delivery of vaccines to children and adults who needed protection.

Gates’ Foundation and Sir Emeka Offor support

But with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announcing an extension of their existing fund raising partnership that could generate up to US$525 million for polio eradication, and the commitment of $1million by Sir Emeka Offor, the Executive Vice Chairman of the Chrome Group, there was convincing signals that the war against the endemic disease will get the expected result.

The new agreement is expected to match 2 for every  $1 Rotary commits to polio eradication up to $35 million yearly to 2018.

While announcing donation of $1 million to Rotary International during his presentation at PolioPlus workshop, Offor told the gathering that his defining moment was when he received confirmation from Rotary that his initial $250,000 contribution to PolioPlus was used immediately in the campaign to eradicate the terrible disease.

Additional $1 million for PolioPlus

Offor, noted that, “In Nigeria, we have lost friends to polio and other dreaded diseases.  But polio should have no place in our world,” even as a team of Indian Rotarian doctors and volunteers visited Abuja last December to carry out nearly 400 surgeries on children with polio, giving them greater comfort, mobility, and life opportunities.

“Therefore, today, I am giving an additional $1million to PolioPlus. I hope that my giving will inspire others, with means far greater than mine, to join the fight to end polio in Nigeria. Polio can be eradicated in my country, in my life time, and it will be.

“It is my deepest hope that my financial contribution and my work with the Rotary leadership in Nigeria, will inspire all Nigerians to work together to bring about the final, permanent, and irreversible eradication of polio,” he said with optimism.

According to Offor, who is committed to the global campaign to end Polio especially in Nigeria, many countries have prevailed in eradicating polio, adding that this terrible disease still exists in Nigeria.

Since the inception of the PolioPlus, he disclosed that Rotarians have contributed more than $160 million to eradicating activities in Nigeria.

He said the funds have supported the work of the partners, the World Health Organization and UNICEF in Nigeria.

The gifts, according to him, have also supported Rotarian volunteers working to immunize and to raise awareness of the eradication initiative throughout the country.

Utilizing Indian example

Offor further disclosed that Nigeria was adopting the Indian model in the fight against polio, saying: “We are utilizing a Rotary model that was effectively used in India to help dispel myths and fallacies surrounding immunizations in the remaining pockets of those communities where resistance is evident.” He assured that he would further use his strong friendship with the Nigerian government to support the eradication of polio in the country.

“I come from humble beginnings. Today I have ties all over the world.  I have the ability to help others escape the poverty and deprivation that I experienced. This goal drives me each and every day."