“Good governance” a key to polio-free Africa
Mo Ibrahim, African telecommunications entrepreneur and proponent of global polio eradication. Photo courtesy of Mo Ibrahim
The founder of a major African telecommunications firm has voiced his support for Rotary's promise to kick polio out of the continent, and the world.
Mo Ibrahim, founder of Celtel, called on leaders at the African Union Summit, held 19-27 July in Kampala, Uganda, to finish the job of polio eradication.
"Polio is no barrier to success … but it does make success more difficult to achieve. And the real tragedy is that their suffering was entirely preventable," Ibrahim wrote in an editorial appearing in South Africa’s Mail and Guardian and Kenya’s online Business Daily.
“The debilitating disease, which has crippled and killed millions throughout history, can be completely eradicated thanks to effective and inexpensive vaccines and immunisation programmes," Ibrahim wrote. "A global campaign to eradicate polio -- spearheaded by WHO [the World Health Organization], Rotary International, UNICEF and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- has already seen astonishing success in reducing incidences of the disease.”
The Sudanese-born entrepreneur also chairs the London-based Mo Ibrahim Foundation, which he started in 2006. The foundation is committed to supporting African leadership to improve economic and social prospects for people on the continent. Toward that goal, it stimulates debate on governance, provides criteria that citizens can use to hold their governments accountable, recognizes leadership achievements, and funds educational scholarships for aspiring leaders.
Not won yet
In his editorial, titled “Good Governance Is Crucial in the Fight against Polio,” Ibrahim noted that the Kick Polio Out of Africa awareness campaign drew strong support from government leaders in Nigeria and other countries in West and Central Africa.
“While the fight against polio has been overwhelmingly successful, it’s important to remember that it has not been won,” Ibrahim cautioned. “Although numbers of new cases have drastically decreased, outbreaks and epidemics are a constant threat. This is not the time to relax and say ‘job done.’ One final push could see polio eradicated completely, thereby preventing any possibility of a resurgence of the disease, protecting thousands of children across the world, and allowing them to participate fully in the development of their continent.”
Ibrahim also lauded Rotary’s leadership role in a massive immunization campaign held in the months before the World Cup, resulting in 85 million children in 19 countries being vaccinated by 400,000 volunteers. At the same time, a soccer ball signed by African leaders and public figures -- including Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and polio survivor -- traveled through 23 polio-affected nations on the continent before arriving in Alexandria, Egypt, in June. In a grand finale celebration, a soccer ball was kicked toward the Mediterranean Sea, symbolizing the poliovirus being kicked out of Africa. (A virtual version of the ball, displayed at www.kickpoliooutofafrica.org, has gathered more than 10,000 online signatures.)
“Only a metaphor, perhaps, but a strong one, reflecting exactly what needs to happen with this deadly but preventable disease,” Ibrahim wrote.
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