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.

National Immunization Day: SEOF`s Fight Against Polio

Sir Emeka Offor administering the polio vaccine to a child at the event

There has been a lot of work done towards the eradication of Polio in Nigeria, as the country is one of the three endemic nations in the world. In a joint effort by the Sir Emeka Offor (SEOF) and Rotary International to attain this milestone, an immunization program was put together to mark the National Immunization Day. Sir Emeka Offor, Rotary International’s Polio Ambassador and the Founder of SEOF was hands on to administer the vaccines to the children. Sir Offor has demonstrated a strong resolve to this course and has donated more than one million USD to the Rotary in his bid to ensure that this Polio bane is permanently kicked out of Nigeria and indeed the world. In his words, “…I have witnessed the menace that is caused by Polio; it is not something that you would wish even for your enemy. We will continue to do whatever it takes to make sure that Polio is totally eradicated.”
The event which took place on the 1st of March, 2014 at the SEOF complex, Oraifite, Anambra State had in attendance, Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State, Senator Ken Nnamani (former Senate President), Senator Chris Anyanwu, High Chief Edem Duke (Minister of Tourism, Culture & National Orientation), Prince Adetokunbo Kayode (former Minister of Defence), Doctor Lawrence Ikeako (Commissioner of Health, Anambra State), H.R.H Dan Udoji (the Obi of Oraifite, H.R.H Nnamdi Oruche (the Obi of Ozubulu, Dr. Charles Onianwa (Rotary’s DG elect 2013/2014), Ijeoma Pearl Okoro (Rotary’s DG nominee 2015/2016), Robert Dickerman (MD/CEO EEDC), Steve Dike and many other notable personalities.
During the immunization exercise, Sir Offor and some guests helped in vaccinating the children. More than a hundred children present at the occasion were immunized, though the exercise is still on going. Sir Offor in his closing speech called on others to join in the fight against Polio, “…I want to solicit the support of all my friends, civil and political leaders, traditional leaders, members of the clergy, the Federal, State and Local Governments and all well-meaning Nigerians to join me in making sure that this deadly disease is finally eradicated out of the world.”

Click here to view photos from the event

You can read an article by Ebuka Macgodson here: "Sir Emeka: Driven by Unquenchable Desire for Polio Eradication"

All You Need to Know About SEOF`s Fight Against Polio

Sir Emeka Offor- Rotary Polio Ambassador

On the 1st of March in Oraifite in Anambra State, Sir Emeka Offor Foundation (SEOF) in partnership with Rotary Club of Nigeria will mark National Immunization Plus day in their continued effort to eradicating Polio in Nigeria. Sir Emeka Offor is the largest African donor to Rotary club international in their effort to making sure that our world today is polio free. It will be recalled that he donated $1 million to Rotary’s polio plus program after initial $250,000 to the same club for the same purpose. However, he has continued to donate to rotary’s different aid programs like initiatives to enhance maternal and child health, education for literacy projects, peace and conflict resolution studies, etc. Offor has contributed a staggering total of more than $2.1 million making him the largest contributor from Africa throughout 108 years Rotary Club history.
Some people are wondering why donating so much money for these purposes especially on polio eradication which so many people have taken for granted. There are two perspectives that need to be straightened out for some people to have a clearer view on propelling passion why very few individuals like Sir Emeka Offor are lending hand of help to the weak and less privileged in our world from their hard earned fortune. The first being that whenever something is distributed free, somebody paid for it and we have just unmasked one of the very few individuals in the world today, who have sworn to see the irreversible end of polio. Bill and Melinda Gate foundation is another notable foundation in polio eradication and together with Sir Emeka Offor Foundation (SEOF), and some few others are not sparing their time, leisure, and money so far that guarantees the everlasting end to polio. The Polio vaccine is free because of these few benefactors to millions of endangered children world over.
Polio is the common name for poliomyelitis, which comes from the Greek words for grey and marrow, referring to the spinal cord, and the suffix –itis, meaning inflammation. Poliomyelitis, shortened, became polio. For a time, polio was called infantile paralysis, though it did not affect only the young. It is caused by one of the three poliovirus of Abortive Polio, Non-paralytic polio and Paralytic polio which are members of the enterovirus genus. Polio is a highly infectious illness that spreads through contact between people, by nasal and oral secretions, and by contact with contaminated feces. Poliovirus enters the body through the mouth, multiplying along the way to the digestive tract, where it further multiplies. Up to this present world, polio has no cure, so prevention is the better option but eradication is the best option, and far less than one percent of global population are genuinely committed to its eradication which Offor happens to be at the forefront. Mortality of polio is not alarming but its effect on any infected child is "till death doeth part". Polio was eradicated in 1994 in the whole of the Western Hemisphere but is still endemic in Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. Two polio vaccines are used throughout the world to combat polio. The first was developed by Jonas Salk and first tested in 1952. Announced to the world by Dr Thomas Francis Junior on April 12, 1955, it consists of an injected dose of inactivated (dead) poliovirus. An oral vaccine was developed by Albert Sabin using attenuated poliovirus. Human trials of Sabin's vaccine began in 1957 and it was licensed in 1962. United States used injected inactivated poliovirus while oral vaccine is mainly used in many parts of the world so that even none health workers canl help in this fight against polio.
The world has seen many polio victims and some have thrived in spite of it but at a huge cost. Many people are surprised to learn that U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt conducted his presidency from a wheelchair. Roosevelt contracted polio in 1921 at the age of 39, and as a result, his legs were permanently paralyzed. It seemed that polio might end those political dreams of his, but Roosevelt maintained that he was getting better and pursued many experimental therapies. To maintain his public image, Roosevelt had a car with special hand controls so that he could drive, and he leaned on an aide to stand for speeches. So many others also achieved their life dreams but how many of polio victims have the will power to overcome or resources to manage the inhibitions. This is one of the main reasons SEOF was established and it is living up to its core aim.
The second reason this huge amount of money is sunk into polio eradication by these few individuals like Offor is passion. In the words of G.K Chesterton, ‘The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.’ In the case of Offor, his mind blowing donations towards helping others especially polio eradication is not because he hates those monies but because he likes the results they bring and the fact that they make others’ lives meaningful. Making a difference through passion driven commitment is the secret to a life of genuine happiness. What gladdens a heart more than knowing that your commitment to your desire has made sure polio is today eradicated in many parts of Nigeria and other parts of the world? Sir Emeka Offor has a lot in common with Bill Gates, the erstwhile richest man in the world, with common passion to see polio eradicated in the world at the core. Both were never polio victims nor do they have any polio victims either in their immediate families or communities, at least in the last 20 years. Apart from the fact that both are billionaires, they have common willingness to lend a helping hand where it is needed.

Written by Ebuka Macgodson
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