Written by Dr. Edwin Ndukwe
International development Consultant
The global war against poliovirus has been waged on many fronts for more than half a century with punctuated accelerations and decelerations. Over time, the geographical theaters have shifted remarkably, warranting boundaries to be redrawn or descaled. Eradication has been successful from the Americas, north, and south, and across the Atlantic to the far-flung fringes of the Pacific. Now, in these modern times, poliovirus has been pushed back to the volatile terrains of Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan.
Historically, the approach to a winning fight against polio had taken a rather unusual tact. The emergence of polio vaccine was a scientifically surreptitious breakthrough in the mid-fifties (1955). Its application brought immediate relief and raised the hope for eradication. But it was not enough to just have the vaccine. It became necessary to have a strategic response plan that is sustainable, progressive and result driven.
As years became decades, it became clear that global eradication of polio required frontline nations to lead the charge through the wheels of policies, advocacy, and diplomatic pressure. The evolution of the World Health Assembly’s social contract redefined the goal post and consequently set the stage for what is now known as the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.
Fast tracking to 2014 and moving forward, the activities of Islamic Terrorist group, Boko Haram, in northeastern Nigeria, presented a major challenge in polio awareness creation and the administration of a vaccine to children. New strategies to reach communities in the volatile zones had to be adopted.
One creative strategy that has become indispensable is the creation of a corps of Volunteer Community Mobilizers (VCM). Nominated by their communities, these female volunteers go house-to-house, educating families about polio, how to prevent it and to ensure that all children under five years age receive the Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV). Using a community-friendly approach, they can identify non-compliant parents and missed children.
To advance the efforts of VCMs, UNICEF collaborated with Rotary International and The Sir Emeka Offor Foundation to produce an ingenious audio device, a speaking book, called “Yes to Health, No to Polio.” It is a seminal work of Books of Hope LLC. The Foundation’s commitment of a total of $152,000 (N60.8 million) covered for the production of 15,000 copies of dual language (Hausa and English) audio books. The Speaking Books are expected to impact 1.5 million households, as each VCM visits, on average, 100 households.
Endorsed by Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI), the “Yes to Health, No to Polio” speaking book was targeted at the hard-to-reach communities in the northern Nigeria.
The colorful pictorial storybook, complemented by the dual language audio, tells the story of a young boy whose mission is to educate his family and community about the importance of hygiene and what measures they needed to take to prevent the spread of polio. With this new tool, UNICEF reports that VCMs have recorded great success in being key drivers in the sensitization efforts and routine immunization exercises. “Yes to Health, No to Polio” was among the important strategies that contributed to a zero transmission for almost two years in Nigeria.
In the ears of many public health interests, the emergence of polio Speaking Books signals a winning sound and hope for Nigeria’s polio End Game. In spite of the recent unfortunate setback caused by an outbreak of three new cases in Borno State, the country remains dedicated to the eradication of polio. What has become indispensable are steady hands by government agencies regarding continued strategy implementations, sustained awareness and broad surveillance across border, and continued funding from donor groups.
Rotary International Polio Ambassador to Nigeria: “We Shall Not Relent”
ABUJA, NIGERIA, August 30, 2016 – The founder of the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation is reflecting on years of remarkable public health achievements as he encourages a renewed emphasis on the END POLIO NOW campaign. Philanthropist and business leader Sir Emeka Offor, the Rotary International Polio Ambassador to Nigeria, is vowing to defeat polio despite the recent discovery of two cases of Acute Flaccid Paralysis (AFP) of Wild Poliovirus Type 1.
The two cases were isolated in July 2016. According to the National Polio Eradication Operations Center in Abuja, two children hailing from Gwoza and Jere local government area (LGA) of Borno State have been paralyzed by the disease. They marked the only recorded cases of polio in Nigeria since July 2014. The country was within months of being certified free and clear of the disease by the World Health Organization (WHO).
“It is a disheartening turn of event in our collective efforts to rid the country of the dreaded disease,” said Sir Emeka Offor. “We have wrestled polio together for many years and have enjoyed remarkable success. We shall not relent. We will now refocus and join hands to continue the fight to ensure that all children are safe from the disease. We will defeat polio.”
The Rotary International Polio Plus Chair, Michel K. McGovern, admitted that it was disappointing news for Rotarians all over the world and particularly for those in Nigeria, who have been at the forefront of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI).
“Rotary members remain resilient in the face of challenges,” said McGovern. “Today, we roll up our sleeves and redouble our efforts to rid the world of this devastating disease. Rotary members in Nigeria are already hard at work to support the outbreak response, and our network will also be tapped to protect children quickly in surrounding countries.”
The Federal Government of Nigeria has approved approximately N6.5 billion when the polio crisis started. Earlier this month, the Federal Government of Nigeria pledged an additional N9.8 billion to assist the National Primary Health Care Development Agency in implementing a response plan, which includes immunizing up to 56 million children by November 2016.
Early Successes, Frustrations
From 1996 to 2001, aggressive and expansive mass immunization exercises had advanced Nigeria’s success in the fight against polio nationally. In the South, polio transmission was successfully halted in 2005. The campaign in the North faltered, plagued by rumors and misconceptions about the safety of the vaccine. The brewing radical Islamic terrorist activities of the infamous Boko Haram group further inflamed the situation with cases increasing from 202 in 2002 to 1,122 in 2006.
Concerted efforts in the form of diplomacy, funding and political pressure by WHO, GPEI representatives, Rotary International and private sector organizations inspired a change in the trajectory for polio eradication. This combination fast-tracked awareness and anti-polio exercises. By late 2013, polio cases were down to six with a promising endgame by 2017. By July 2015, Nigeria had become delisted from the three endemic nations remaining Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“The isolated cases of AFP in Borno State are a sobering reminder that no child is safe until every potential virus becomes eradicated worldwide,” said Sir Emeka. “Nigeria should be unreserved in its vigilance, intensify surveillance across borders, and continue to drive forward the campaign on national immunization, particularly in the hard to reach communities of the northeast.”
Written by: Dr. Edwin Ndukwe
International Development Consultant
Africans in their unique cultural tradition are endowed with abundant social capital. Therefore, the welfare of each child in any community is inherently the responsibility of all, which gives credence to the proverb "it takes a village to raise a child." In the world of business, that same spirit of communal support extends into our new appreciation of corporate social responsibility, more aptly identified as social sustainability and philanthropy.
Philanthropy whether internally generated or from external sources is not a novel concept within the domain of the rich and wealthy. It is a principle that has addressed the fundamental challenges of our societies beyond the capabilities of the public sector. What is phenomenal, however, is the pace and scope of giving among Africans who have risen to play on the grander stage usually occupied by western foreign governments, international NGOs, prominent and super-wealthy individuals, and multi-national corporations. These emerging and highly successful African entrepreneurs are global Pan-Africanists who take great pride in the “African Renaissance” and have solidly embraced the traditions of their forefathers to be their brothers’ keeper.
While we value and continue to welcome the commitment and support of UNICEF, WHO, CDC, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and other international donor organizations, we are proudly cognizant of our homegrown philanthropists and economic game-changers of our new Africa. A 2014 publication from IRIN, the humanitarian news, and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs highlighted a few African philanthropists who are having a significant impact on the continent. Top on their list is the following Nigerian Philanthropists: Aliko Dangote, Jim Ovia, Tony Elumelu, Arthur Eze, and Theophilus Danjuma. Several others from South Africa and Zimbabwe were also mentioned. The list is not entirely comprehensive, but it shows that Africans are not idly watching from behind the fence waiting for others to address our problems and challenges. In fact, IRIN News reports that African philanthropists contribute an estimated $7 billion annually to an array of worthy causes.
Let us now turn the spotlight on health, and specifically, the Global Polio Eradication Initiatives (GPEI). Before the discovery of the Inactivated Polio Virus (IPV) vaccine by Jonas Salk, polio ravaged the global community almost unimpeded. This devastating disease led to paralysis and often the death of an estimated half million people annually. Confronting the polio health crisis became a challenging burden of leading nations and global health agencies. The polio vaccine discovery paved the way for an expedient relief, cutting the cases of polio in the U.S. from 20,000 per year in the 1950’s to 1000 per year in the 1960's. In 1988, through Rotary International support, the World Health Assembly articulated a global response to polio eradication. From 350,000 documented cases of polio in 1988 to a remarkable low in 2014, Rotary International, seeing the possibility of global eradication, is not letting up.
One cannot speak of polio eradication efforts in Africa without mentioning the determined and passionate commitment of Rotary International’s Polio Ambassador to Nigeria, Sir Emeka Offor. Sir Emeka, who is the founder of the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation (SEOF) and one of Nigeria’s most versatile and successful businessmen, is not just the leading African donor to Rotary International’s polio efforts, he is also the Continent’s most active and vocal advocate for the eradication of polio; a tireless health crusader, and an impassionate voice for the preservation of health for all. Many traditional observers of Sir Emeka's anti-polio efforts have said in many incontrovertible terms, that he has "stooped to conquer" polio in Africa.
Known as a modest and self-effacing businessman, the Executive Vice Chairman of the Chrome Group and the Chairman of Kaztec Engineering Limited has quietly steamed past his compatriots with an accumulated total donation of $3.1 million. Matched by the Bill & Melinda Gates 2 for one program, a new aggregate total of $9.3 million is accredited to Sir Emeka Offor.
It is important to underscore that while we have seen a 99% global reduction in the number of polio cases, there are still roadblocks to achieving the end game in Nigeria. Access to some interior communities in the heavily volatile areas of the Northeast has proven problematic in the heat of insurgent activities of the Islamic group Boko Haram. The Federal Government, however, is actively addressing these challenges. One approach that ought to be applauded is the defiance and bold strategy of “quick entry and exit” coordinated by polio workers at the grassroots in concert with community dwellers when the perceived threats of insurgent activities are low. In other words, when information filters through from locals that the insurgent activities have tapered, then polio workers make a quick entry into the area and immunize children and then vacate the community. Such social innovations and the commitment of health professionals have provided sufficient buffer in the containment of polio and without equivocation formed the basis for the success Nigeria recorded in contending with Ebola.
Sir Emeka's financial commitments and his widely recognized altruism have enabled Rotary to complement Government’s efforts and reduce the number of polio cases significantly to 6 in 2014, an 85% reduction compared to previous years. In fact, an article by mega-philanthropist Ted Turner, the former owner of Time-Warner, titled "No Letting up Fight to end Polio," substantiates that over 75% of all children in eight Northern Nigerian States have been successfully immunized against polio in spite of a deadly insurgency and unprecedented insecurity in Northeastern Nigeria. With these collective efforts against the deadly virus, Nigeria enjoyed relative peace from the disease since July 2015 and was well on its way to being certified free from polio by July 2017, by the World Health Organization. That journey was sadly cut short due to a newly identified case of polio in Borno State. The time clock will now be reset and here explains the need for continued philanthropy, intense polio immunization exercise, and public sector engagement. Afghanistan and Pakistan remain endemic for polio.
Nigeria has the resolve, the human capacity, and a renewed political will to bring an end to polio. Private sector support without equivocation is paramount to achieving the desired goal. Sir Emeka and other like-minded Nigerian philanthropists believe that the end game is closer than ever before. In his official capacity as Rotary International’s Polio Ambassador to Nigeria, Sir Emeka has said he "will not rest until every child is immunized and Nigeria is polio-free." This “privatization” of polio eradication efforts, I believe, represents a real turning point in Nigeria’s long fight against this crippling disease.
It has taken leaders of uncommon vision, unbridled action, and deep compassion and commitment to get us to where we are today. In the unfriendly arena of life's battles, the wise, the humble at heart, and the selfless, often "stoop to conquer."
When the real story of polio eradication in Nigeria is finally written, Sir Emeka Offor will feature prominently in the pantheon of the Philanthro-Capitalists who made it happen.
Written by: Dr. Edwin Ndukwe
International Development Consultant
- Category: News and Events
- Published on 27 April 2016
ABUJA, NIGERIA, April 26, 2016— Sir Emeka Offor, an Abuja-based businessman and Philanthropist and His Excellency, Aminu Bello Masari, the Executive Governor of Katsina State have on this day, the 26th day of April 2016, signed into effect a Memorandum of Understanding between The Sir Emeka Offor Foundation (SEOF) and the Katsina State Government where the Foundation has committed to providing books and computers to higher institutions in the state.
The initiative is part of Sir Emeka Offor Foundation’s continuing effort to promote literacy in the country and the continent of Africa. The Foundation’s active partnership with an Atlanta based non-governmental organization, “Books For Africa”, have successfully facilitated the supply of books, reading materials and computers worth more than $22 million to schools in over 18 countries in the continent including Nigeria since its inception.
“Today marks a beginning of the good things that will happen between the foundation and the Katsina State government. We've come to support the government, having seen the good works, and having evaluated the quality of the person of the governor of Katsina State, the way the affairs of the state is being run, said Sir Emeka.
“ We are going to support him in a lot of areas, starting with educational institutions, from secondary to tertiary institutions. We are going to be flooding this state with a large consignment of books; that will start coming within the next fortnight, and that will be followed by desktops and laptops. I`m happy that the Chief of Staff and other members of your team were in our headquarters in Anambra State yesterday, to see for themselves, and I think they were very happy with what they saw on the ground. And that's why we want to support the Katsina State government to see that it is done, he further stated.
In his remarks at the signing ceremony, His Excellency, Governor Masari said, “Today, we mark the beginning of a very fruitful journey for Katsina and Sir Emeka Offor Foundation. You know, in Katsina we believe the issue of education is our number one priority, so what Sir Emeka has done, or is doing to Katsina in the area as towards our educational status is more than words can express. ... is what you can call an endless journey because it is knowledge that will be acquired and passed through generations.”
The Governor acknowledged that such philanthropy would assist in human capacity development in the state and that by “developing individuals, institutions naturally will be developed”. He commended Sir Emeka for his care towards humanity saying that this act shows that Sir Emeka has “a social conscience.”
Stating the government commitment to abide by the tenets of the MOU in ensuring that books reach the end users as quickly as delivered, Governor Masari assured Sir Emeka that “Katsina will not fail you, will not disappoint you.”
“And so accept on behalf of the people of Katsina State our sincere thanks and appreciations, and also in the name of humanity, for what you are doing, you are doing it (for) humanity.
SEOF plans to commence delivery of books to Katsina State within two weeks from the date of signing the MOU.
About the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation
The Sir Emeka Offor Foundation is a philanthropic organization based in Oraifite, Anambra State, Nigeria. The Foundation seeks to alleviate the sufferings of the less privileged through philanthropy, and focuses primarily on giving support and hope to those in need irrespective of tribe, creed, religion and nation. The Foundation has affected the lives of many Nigerians through its domestic programs and projects, which include youth empowerment, Widows Cooperative, education, and health services and infrastructural development. For more information, visit http://sireofforfoundation.org or like us at https://www.facebook.com/siremekaofforfoundation.