Sir Emeka Offor`s Giant Strides to Eradicate Polio

Cutting of The Tape at the Launch of the Rotary International Polio Ambassador`s Office

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 Center; 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 fulfillment of his pledge to fight Polio till “every child is immunized in Nigeria and polio is no more. 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 center 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, and the highlight of the day, it 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 participators is 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 visited the Polio Emergency Operation Center (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 salutes the efforts of the visiting donor in the person of Sir Emeka Offor. He said, “I want also to inform you that we are committed to eradicating polio in the country, the scourge of polio, by June this year. The Polio Emergency Operation Center, 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 they are making strategic inroads towards polio immunization in high-risk areas of the country. He described high-risk areas as regions where Rotary efforts has suffered most set backs 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. The first quarter of this year, we recorded 1 case in Kano and we just got an advanced notification of 1 case in Bayelsa. What I want to mention here is that there has been about 90% 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…the kids are attracted to it and trust is quickly established. 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 5 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, during his remarks. The event on Tuesday was followed with another immunization drive on Thursday morning at a health center 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. The occasion was equally graced with many Rotarian dignitaries including D.K.Lee.

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The River Blindness Elimination Commitment in Nigeria

It is not everyday individuals and groups of people come together to advance the cause of fighting diseases in Nigeria, especially those that affect millions of people. In the case of Nigeria, several health challenges confront the vast majority of its people, a serious issue which demand serious and swift attention.

River blindness also known as Onchocerciasis has become the most endemic disease in Nigeria which according to the Carter Center accounts for as much as 40 per cent of the global disease burden. The Center estimates that up to 27 million Nigerians live with the disease in different parts of the 32 state and need treatment for disease. In 2012, the Center provided health education and Mectizan treatments to more than 6 million people in more than 8,100 villages. This initiative has however received quite an appreciable number of supports in the last couple of years from organisations and NGOs based in Nigeria through partnership with the Center in the fight against Onchocerciasis.

One of the biggest supporters in the fight and elimination of Onchocerciasis in Nigeria is Sir Emeka Offor, the founder and the Executive Vice Chairman of Chrome Group. On March 26, 2014, an esteemed team of epidemiologists, entomologists and public health advocates from The Carter Center (TCC) in Atlanta, Georgia U.S.A. paid a courtesy visit to him at the Group’s headquarters located on 22 Lobito Crescent, FCT. Abuja. Among the guests was TCC Country Representative/Nigeria Dr. Emmanuel S. Miri, OFR, Senior Associate Director of Development for TCC Health Programs Sarah Bartlett, Director Southeast Integrated Programs TCC Nigeria Dr. Emmanuel Emukah, Senior Program Associate for TCC Lindsay Rakers, and Assistant Director Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) TCC Atlanta Dr. Darin Evans. Representing Chrome Group included the Chief Energy Consultant Engr. Onochie Anyaoku, Director Project Engr. Tochukwu Odukwe, followed by the Group Administrative Manager Chief Inno Anoliefo while the General Coordinator Honourable Tony Obi ably represented the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation (SEOF).

Speaking to the visitors in his office, Sir Emeka thanked all for their visit while stating his happiness in partnering with the former U.S. President Jimmy Carter in all his endeavours towards the elimination of not just River Blindness in Nigeria.
“I want to continue my support to President Carter to see that River Blindness is eliminated from our region. And now, I know it is not just River Blindness but also elephantiasis and schistosomiasis.” Sir Emeka said;

He further stated that he was actively developing an office facility at the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation (SEOF) headquarter in Oraifite, Anambra State. The new office according to Sir Emeka will be dedicated to The Carter Center. In addition, he noted that his foundation is in the process of acquiring four Hilux utility vehicles to help curb TCC logistic challenges in the South-eastern part of Nigeria.

While thanking Sir Emeka for his continued support of the program, TCC Country Representative/Nigeria Dr. Miri confirmed that a thorough mapping of the seven endemic states in Nigeria (Abia, Anambra, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Enugu, and Imo) had been completed and that the Carter Center is poised to scale up its treatment target to reach about 35 million people. Dr. Miri said, “we still have challenges in the area of funding even though other agencies like WHO and USAID have made donations…however the funds are not accessible due to recent restrictions on foundations to donate to Nigeria because of Nigeria’s new anti-gay law.” Dr Miri therefore asked for Sir Emeka Offor’s continued financial support.

Speaking earlier during the visit, Sarah Bartlett shared President Carter’s appreciation for Sir Emeka Offor’s partnership in his efforts to bring about a total elimination of River Blindness in Nigeria. She noted how Sir Emeka offor’s donations last year had been very useful to the program such that it has established him as the highest African donor to the program in Nigeria. She also stressed that Sir Emeka Offor’s continued support was necessary because depending on other governmental donor organs may not be reliable. She affirmed that there were currently a lot of restrictions on how much or how long USAID could support the program especially in Nigeria.

Dr. Evans joined in by saying that Onchocerciasis elimination efforts had been very successful in the Americas through the Onchocerciasis Elimination Program for the Americas (OEPA) and was equally successful in Uganda and Sudan. He said, “we would like to try to do this in Nigeria…perhaps we can get some support to implement the elimination studies we have done elsewhere.”
The visit ended on a good note with Sir Emeka Offor extending an invitation to the team from The Carter Center to return to Nigeria and specifically to the Southeast to initiate the “scaled up” elimination program.

With the above commitments and initiative, there is no doubt that the elimination of Onchocerciasis will be achieved. River blindness poses a great risk for us as a people. Stemming it vigorously now will not only prevent its further spread but also remove Nigeria from its endemic status.

Dr. Edwin Ndukwe wrote via This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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The Carter Center Partners with SEOF to Combat River Blindness in Nigeria

President Jimmy Carter and Sir Emeka Offor

On March 3rd 2014, The Jimmy Carter Center in Atlanta Georgia was noticeably alive as the 18th River Blindness [Elimination] Program Review kicked off in full swing.

The event, which holds annually, was graced by world leading epidemiologists and entomologists, public health advocates and country Ministry of Health coordinators, particularly from countries with Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) endemicity and those with partner relationship with The Carter Foundation. Others in attendance were prominent donors or representatives associated with the Carter Center in their homogenous and broad pursuit of peace, disease eradication and human capacity training.

Dr. Frank Richards Jr. Director, Carter Center RB, LF, SCH, ML Programs, opened up the conference by looking at River Blindness eradication efforts, challenges and recorded successes since the 2013 Review session. In his declaration, he reminded the panel of the purpose of the review, which according to him are; to examine The Carter Center assisted River Blindness (RB), Lymphatic Filariasis (LF), Schistosomiasis (SCH) programs together with represented partners from country Ministry of Health, assess targets reached during the previous year, review problems encountered in fulfilling set objectives and set new goals or objectives for the 2014 year.
He further urged the panel to evaluate and appreciate innovative efforts or concepts of integration otherwise called Integrated Vector Management (IVM). World Health Organization in 2011 issued a statement in support of IVM citing improved cost effectiveness in vector control operations and strengthening the capacity of programs as well, as it pertains to LF/Malaria, LF and RB elimination in endemic regions of Africa and particularly, Nigeria. IVM had encouraged an estimated treatment target of about 20 million in 2013, a remarkable jump from previous years number. Although a little more than 15 million treatment target was met, it however was considered a success.
River Blindness or Onchocerciasis is a disease that affects the eye and skin, which is brought on by a nematode called Onchocerca Volvulus. It is one of the neglected tropical diseases (NTD) with endemicity in South Eastern Nigeria. It is parasitic in nature and it is caused by an infection resulting from several bites from a black fly often found in areas with fast flowing streams. According to WHO, 30 countries in Africa are considered endemic with an estimated population of 85 million. Almost half of those numbers live in Nigeria.
Common symptoms include itching of skin, rashes or papules often tightening of skin tissue akin to a lizard skin characteristic. The accompanying inflammatory response leads to glaucoma type effect that may lead to irreversible blindness if not treated on time. Treatment is effected by the administration of a drug called Ivermectin (Mectizan), a Merck Company product, once or twice a year for about 15 years. An antibiotic doxycycline has also been used to hasten treatment when properly indicated.
Embracing the shift from control to elimination, The Carter Center has adopted a “scale up” modality in the treatment of RB. To enable the foundation and its partners achieve this goal, twice-a-year and sometimes four-times-a-year treatment regimens have been encouraged, particularly in regions where transmission persists. Such an aggressive approach requires coordinated and collaborative efforts from each country`s Ministry of Health, The Carter Center and most certainly supportive funding from donor organizations.
It is here that Sir Emeka Offor, the Executive Vice Chairman of a multi-billion dollar oil and gas conglomerate, has risen to augment the ongoing global efforts towards the elimination and eradication of RB from Nigeria. Through his corporate responsibility arm, The Sir Emeka Offor Foundation, he donated over $250,000 of his personal money to the Carter Center during the year 2013. At this year’s review at The Carter Center in Atlanta, Sir Emeka Offor through his foundation representative renewed his commitment to the fight against River Blindness and further pledged provision of supportive logistics to advance efforts made by The Carter Center. Till date, Sir Emeka Offor remains the largest independent African donor in the world towards the elimination and eradication of River Blindness in Nigeria, a statement verified from the Center’s spokesperson.
While speaking at the closing of the review session, the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation representative, Dr. Edwin Ndukwe, commended the team of doctors, epidemiologists and entomologists for their persistence in RB elimination project. In his words, he said; “I commend the Carter Center for bringing together these colorful and quite frankly brilliant ensemble of scientific icons that are committed to wiping out the scourge of River Blindness from our region”. He further referred to them as “Iconoclasts” stating that through their unique disciplines, they are “breaking new grounds, stretching scientific borders and redefining scientific research standards.” Dr. Ndukwe reaffirmed Sir Emeka Offor’s passion for the ongoing work against River Blindness.

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What I Saw at Oraifite!

Article by Raheem Oluwafunminiyi

Sir Emeka Offor administering the polio vaccine to a child

As an independent writer, one which spans almost a decade, my writings have always tilted towards political issues, especially as it affects the mass of the poor both locally and on the global stage. I was however, surprised when I was challenged by a superior to visit Oraifite community in Ekwusigo Local Government Area of Anambra state, to witness and write on an epochal event, one that will forever remain evergreen not only for me personally but also many Oraifite people who came for the progarmme.
I agreed to be part of the event for two reasons. The first being that it marked the National Immunization Day which flagged off in Oraifite and second for the symbolism of the day which heralded the hand of philanthropy through the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation whose effort towards the fight and eradication of polio nationally and globally has remained uniquely monumental.
Oraifite, erroneously tagged a sleepy town by some commentators, was thrown into frenzy on the 1st of March, 2014, as the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation (SEOF) in partnership with Rotary International flagged off the National Immunization Day. It was a decisive moment for the people of the town and Anambra state as a whole for the simple fact that the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation through its founder Sir Emeka Offor (SEO) had in the last couple of years committed itself to ensuring polio is continuously fought to a standstill through massive immunization of children. The cause has so far yielded much achievement through series of financial commitments by Sir Emeka Offor over the years.
For those who may not know, the effects of polio are still evident in many communities and exist majorly in Pakistan, Afghanistan and surprisingly in Nigeria. This is so in both Pakistan and Afghanistan if one consider years of war, lack of access to vaccines, terrorism among other challenges both countries face. In Nigeria though, the fight against polio has reached an appreciable level yet we have still not reached the level of eradication. According to Global Polio Eradication Initiative, Nigeria is believed to have one of the most entrenched reservoirs of wild poliovirus in the world. It is the only country with on-going transmission of all three serotypes: wild poliovirus type 1, wild poliovirus type 3, and circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2. Sadly, states in the north of the country are the main source of polio infections elsewhere in Nigeria and in neighbouring countries. In 2009, however, operational improvements in these northern states led to a 90 per cent decline in cases of wild poliovirus type 1 and a 50 per cent decline in overall cases compared with 2008.
Happily, several efforts by the government in the last couple of years have witnessed a level of reduction in polio cases across the country. Quite recently, the Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu noted the Federal Government’s commitment in partnering with leading stakeholders to help eradicate polio by the end of 2014. This was made known after Nigeria’s impressive performance on polio eradication in 2012 and 2013 provided a clear indicator that the country would end polio transmission at the end of 2014. Despite the aggressive drive by the current government to see that polio is eradicated from our society, not much has been achieved in ensuring the process of re-immunization takes priority. It is pertinent to state that the movement of people from one place to the other facilitates the spread of polio and therefore, there is a need to re-channel the polio fight to this migration phenomenon.
The solution to this glitch is however near. Few individuals have taken up the challenge to do all it takes to keep the fight going. The likes of Bill and Melinda Gates through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gave The Rotary Foundation a US$100 million challenge grant for polio eradication, and in 2009, increased it to US355 million. Rotary agreed to raise US$200 million in matching funds by 30 June 2012, but Rotarians in fact raised US$228.7 million toward the challenge. It was as a result of the kind gesture and in order to render this crippling disease extinct that another individual took up the challenge by donating US$250,000 to Rotary International to assist in its Global Polio Eradication Initiative.
Sir Emeka Offor, founder of The Chrome Group, one of Nigeria’s leading indigenous multinational businesses believes it is difficult to be a productive member of society when one is sick and so has committed huge resources through the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation to make the society a better place to live. Apart from his earlier donation of US$250,000, Sir Emeka Offor just over a year ago announced he was making a new US$1 million contribution to the International PolioPlus Committee. Sir Emeka Offor had explained that his contributions to a number of causes are motivated by his humble origins and as a successful businessman; he enjoys giving in order to help others avoid the circumstances he faced.
I spoke to a number of people, among which was Mrs Ijeoma Earl Okoro (Rotary District Governor Nominee 2015/2016) on why the partnership between Sir Emeka Offor Foundation and Rotary International is germane. She was of the view that SEO as a person is passionate about service and through the SEO Foundation has touched many lives and so by partnering Rotary, he has been able to increase the reach by providing a better and larger platform to actually do what he is already doing and do it best in a bigger, better and bolder way. Mrs Ijeoma Earl Okoro noted that the major challenge confronting polio eradication was advocacy, reaching people and convincing them that the vaccine is not poisonous.
“As a result of terrorism,” Mrs Ijeoma Earl Okoro said, “polio vaccinators are unable to reach the hinterland where the children are. And the way it is, until the last child is vaccinated, polio will not be free, so if there is war anywhere and polio health workers are not able to reach the last child, polio remains endemic, so our problem is in advocacy, reaching people, convincing them that polio does not kill which is what the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation is doing and aggressively partnering Rotary on to achieve great results.”
In his own remark, Dr. Edwin Ndukwe, Media Head and Business Development, The Chrome Group noted that the World Health Organisation (WHO) in February 2012 removed India from the list of polio-endemic countries, making it a momentous medical achievement. This status, he said, was possible due to massive financial support, advocacy, relentless research and strong political will.
“Nigeria could join the league of polio free nations when we address low routine immunization rates and surveillance gaps in polio free areas, maintain funding and political commitment to implement the eradication strategies.”
“As a proud Nigerian and the First Polio Ambassador of Nigeria, Sir Emeka Offor desires that every child should be immunized to protect against polio virus infection. He is committed to making Nigeria a polio free nation,” Dr. Edwin Ndukwe observed.
There is no denying the fact polio is still a problem for Nigeria. After nearly finishing the job of elimination in 2010, the country slipped, and in the last two years, the virus has made an unnerving comeback. The Governor of Anambra state, Peter Obi who was visibly present at the polio programme didn’t mince words when he categorically noted that a lot was still needed to be done to prevent polio despite Anambra state being declared polio free. He observed that the major issue in the state was how to ensure a re-immunisation program that will capture those who travel in and out of the state daily so as not to allow the spread of the disease. Governor Peter Obi also praised SEO for his involvement in the polio exercise and urged others to emulate such rare gesture.
“The government and people of Anambra state remain very grateful to SEO for his involvement in this exercise. That an Anambra person in a state that is polio free can devote his time and money to become the polio ambassador is something that we are very appreciative of. That he is doing this in Anambra goes a long way and shows his commitment to the care of the poor,” the governor said.
Apart from the high number of widows who came to grace the occasion, the movers and shakers of Nigeria’s political space, friends of SEO, Oraifite community, captains of industry, business colleagues, Rotary members, Anambra state and many others were also on ground to participate in the polio programme. The roll call saw in attendance the Commissioner for Health, Anambra State, Dr. Lawrence Ikeakor, traditional rulers of Oriafite and those from neighbouring villages and Minister of Culture and Tourism, Mr. Edem Duke. Others include former Defence Minister, Prince Kayode Adetokunbo, former Senate President, Ken Nnamani, and Senator Chris Anyanwu.
The number of prominent individuals who graced the immunisation programme was not as paramount as the several hundreds of mothers who stormed the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation Complex with their little children to receive the free polio vaccines. There is no gainsaying that Sir Emeka Offor has taken the fight against polio to a whole new level and as the first Polio Ambassador of Nigeria and coupled with being Africa’s single largest donor to Rotary, it is clear that the polio scourge has found answers through such rare yet massive commitments.
When asked by reporters on why he took such rare interest in the fight against polio, SEO explained how dangerous polio was to the growth and development of all children and his willingness in making sure he brought joy, happiness and relief to them through massive vaccination.
“I have witnessed from my relationship with the northern part of the country where I was born and where this virus and sickness fully exist that children are not able to get vaccinated which make them disabled. When such children grow and walk on the street of most parts of the country, they become beggars as a result of polio. That is why I want to make sure this disease is eradicated so that our children will be polio free in this country and the world,” Sir Emeka Offor passionately observed.
As Sir Emeka Offor and other distinguished guests on the roll call took turn to administer the children with the vaccines, I quickly took time to ask two mothers waiting to also get vaccines for their babies how they feel about the polio programme initiated by Sir Emeka Offor Foundation and Rotary International. Both were happy for the timely intervention and assistance given by the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation. While the first mother who called herself Nnenna showed much gratitude for the kind gesture displayed by Sir Emeka Offor through his Foundation, the other mother, Ijeoma Madu called on other well-meaning Nigerians to emulate what Sir Emeka Offor has been doing for their community, especially on polio eradication in Oraifite and Anambra state.
More often than not, the fight against polio and its total eradication in Nigeria and globally can indeed get to the desired goal through the combined efforts of all stakeholders. Apart from the increased political will which has since witnessed much devotion in the last couple of years, other efforts must be put in place to see that Nigeria is declared polio-free. Aside increased commitment of health workers, inter-sectorial collaboration and integration of health services; improved funding of health care is germane if polio is to become a thing of the past in our society.
The National Immunisation Day and polio exercise flagged off in Oraifite through the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation in partnership with Rotary International is one of the myriads of philanthropic commitments of Sir Emeka Offor geared towards global efforts in polio eradication. There is no doubt therefore, that Sir Emeka Offor has distinguished himself by his unparalleled positive programmes which have impacted more lives in the last couple of years. He represents a generation that has created a niche for itself and one that think out of the box, especially in the course of human progress and selfless service to mankind. It is not every day one gets to find entrepreneurs, especially in Nigeria who dedicate their life and time to the poor and needy. Sir Emeka Offor comes not only as a backbone but stands as life support for many of these people who though have a heart but are heartbroken by the vicissitudes of life. With such huge financial commitments dedicated to the social welfare of the poor, Sir Emeka Offor for many has changed the face of philanthropy. It is not enough to have and keep having without giving freely to those who urgently need a life. If children are given the right environment to grow and develop, they will automatically make the society a better place for us and their over children.
If it is Sir Emeka Offor’s dream to see that we all can bring about the final, permanent, and irreversible eradication of polio in his life time, that for me is rare courage. Such dream is one we all must nurture to fruition and from what I had seen at Oraifite, there is no doubt that we are this close to ending polio. Such dream will certainly come true!

Raheem Oluwafunminiyi wrote via This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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