New office unveiled in Maitama area of Abuja, dedicated as the Polio Ambassador Office

TAG1.jpgABUJA, April 15, 2014 - Tuesday 15th April, 2014 cast a different shadow on the hearts of many Rotarians and indeed on the hearts of many mothers in and around Garki Family Health Centre; a departure from gloom and horror of a vicious attack on the community of Nyanya, Abuja, a day earlier. Thanks a lot to Sir Emeka Offor, the founder of Sir Emeka Offor Foundation for his unbending commitment to see that Polio is totally eradicated from Nigeria and the world.

Sir Emeka Offor, a member of the Arch Klumph Society of Rotary International and the First Rotary International Polio Ambassador to Nigeria unveiled a new office space in Maitama area of Abuja, dedicated as the Polio Ambassador Office, a demonstration and a fulfilment of his pledge to fight Polio till “every child is immunized in Nigeria and polio is no more.”See photos from the ceremony here:

The new office according to him will serve as the coordinating office for all polio related issues under the umbrella of Rotary International. In addition, it will function as a control centre and a hub for all applicable outreach projects, and a birthing platform for advocacy on Polio eradication initiatives.

The unveiling of the office, although significant, as the highlight of the day, did not go without an immunization drive organized and held at the Family Health Clinic in Area 2 Garki. The Rotary International Ambassador, Sir Emeka Offor, along with a special guest, the visiting Chair, Trustee of Rotary Foundation and the past Rotary International President D.K. Lee and his amiable wife Jong Lee, were on site to administer oral poliovirus vaccine (OPV) to many infants. Equally and actively involved in the immunization exercise was the National Chairman Rotary International Polio Plus Dr. Tunji Funsho. Others were senior ranking members of Rotary International including past and present District Governors. In addition to the esteemed group of participants was the former United States Ambassador to Nigeria Howard Jeter (Rtd.) and Peggy Asseo, the Rotary International Polio Campaign Manager.

Earlier during the day, Ambassador Sir Emeka Offor visited the Polio Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) to learn of their efforts in the fight against polio. While conducting a tour of the EOC at their Abuja office, Dr. Etsano, the program manager, shared with Sir. Emeka Offor and D.K. Lee in the company of many distinguished Rotary representatives their successes and challenges with the Polio eradication initiatives in Nigeria.

In his introductory remarks, Dr. Etsano saluted the efforts of the visiting donor in the person of Sir Emeka Offor. He said, “I want to also inform you that we are committed to eradicating polio in the country, the scourge of polio, by June this year. The Polio Emergency Operation Centre, which is the place you have now was carved out in October 2012 to give a bite to the program and ensure that we put it on an emergency note based on the World Health Assembly recommendation that polio should not be a programmatic emergency, and that is exactly what we have been doing to ensure that we meet with the deadline and we should exit after India.” He also said that strategic inroads were being made towards polio immunization in high-risk areas of the country. He described high-risk areas as regions were Rotary efforts have suffered most setbacks due to misinformation about the safety of OPV, predominantly in the northern corridors of Nigeria.

“Looking at the epidemiology of wild poliovirus in the country, we ended last year with 53 cases of children paralyzed from polio compared to 2012 where we had 122 cases," Dr. Etsano further observed. "The first quarter of this year, we recorded one case in Kano and we just got an advanced notification of one case in Bayelsa. What I want to mention here is that there has been about 90 percent reduction compared to last year at the same period.”

Speaking on the innovations that have given them success in the program in spite of the obvious challenges of insecurity in the North, he said that in order to win the hearts of the parents to agree for the immunization of their children, you must first of all win the hearts of the children.

“What has worked for us is the introduction of sports whistles as a gift to the children… [which has] attracted them to it while trust is quickly established," Dr. Etsano said.

Another scheme as stated by Dr. Etsano is the integrated approach to health drives. When the children come in to the clinic for their routine visits, while they are receiving other acceptable vaccines, they are easily given OPV, he said. He further stated that the EOC which was carved out in October 2012 is, “committed to eradicating Polio by June this year (2014) from Nigeria."

Polio is an infectious viral disease that affects the nervous system often leading to partial or full paralysis of the lower extremities of mostly children under five years of age. According to a report from World Health Organization, “one in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis.” In severe conditions, it may lead to death stemming from immobilization of the respiratory muscles. Poliovirus although eradicated from most paths of the world remains endemic in Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

With concerted and renewed focus on the END POLIO NOW initiative, “victory is near for a polio free Nigeria,” D.K. Lee, the Chair Trustee for Rotary International Foundation said in his remarks. The event on Tuesday was followed with another immunization drive on Thursday morning at a health centre near garden city, Port Harcourt. During the visit, which was organized by District 9140, a billboard with Sir Emeka Offor’s “We are this close to ending Polio” was unveiled. Several Rotary dignitaries including D.K. Lee equally attended the occasion.