Gates signs soccer ball in Nigeria
Bill Gates, cochair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, added his support to the Kick Polio Out of Africa campaign this week, signing a soccer ball that is making its way through the continent before the 2010 World Cup.
Since February, the ball has been traveling through a number of polio-affected countries in Africa, raising awareness of the eradication effort. In many nations, its arrival has coincided with immunization activities, and Rotarians have celebrated by holding public rallies and inviting government officials. Follow the ball’s progress on our interactive map.
As he signed the ball in Abuja, Gates commended Nigeria for making significant gains in the fight against polio and called upon the country’s leaders to finish the job. Gates was in Nigeria to learn more about the dramatic decline in polio cases since his last visit in February 2009. This year, only three cases have been reported in the country through 8 June, compared with 298 during the same period in 2009.
“Nigeria’s recent progress against polio is an achievement that all Nigerians should be proud of,” Gates said. “Thanks to political and traditional leaders, dedicated health workers, and loving parents who want to protect their children, Nigeria is on a path toward eliminating polio.”
The soccer ball is entering the final leg of its four-month journey. A grand campaign finale will be held at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria, Egypt, on 12 June. Africa Cup of Nations champions will kick the ball, symbolically kicking polio out of the continent. Egyptian First Lady Suzanne Mubarak will preside over the event, which will also be attended by film star Hani Salama, children who have survived polio, government officials, and other dignitaries.
From there, the ball will travel to the 2010 RI Convention in Montréal, Québec, Canada, 20-23 June. Its journey is being underwritten by DHL Express.
In addition, thousands have added their signatures to a virtual ball online. Sign the ball.
Since Rotary and its partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative began their fight against polio in 1988, the incidence of the disease has been reduced by 99 percent. In Africa, only Nigeria remains polio-endemic, but the disease still affects children in many other high-risk countries, emphasizing the importance of protecting all African children against polio. The virus is also endemic in three other countries: Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan.
The Gates Foundation has awarded Rotary US$355 million in challenge grants in support of its efforts to eradicate polio. In response, Rotary has committed to raising $200 million by 30 June 2012. As of this month, Rotarians have raised $128.7 million.
“As the volunteer arm and private-sector partner in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, Rotary has contributed $388 million for polio eradication efforts in Africa,” said June Webber, Kick Polio Out of Africa project coordinator. She added that Rotarians and their global partners are determined to provide a lasting legacy as they "celebrate the first World Cup on African soil.”
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