African Rotary members unite to kick polio out of Africa ahead of World Cup
Desmond Tutu helps launch Pan-African awareness campaign as pyramid of Giza and V&A Waterfront in Cape Town will carry Rotary’s End Polio Now pledge
CAPE TOWN/CAIRO (Feb. 19, 2010) – In the lead-up to the FIFA World Cup in South Africa this summer, Rotary clubs across Africa are gearing up for the final push to kick polio out of the continent.
On Feb. 23, which marks Rotary’s 105th anniversary, the Pyramid of Khafre, the second largest of the ancient Egyptian pyramids of Giza, and the Old Port Captain’s Office, at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town, will provide a dramatic backdrop for an equally dramatic message: End Polio Now. Those three words, projected onto global monuments worldwide, represent Rotary’s pledge to rid the world of this crippling and potentially fatal childhood disease that still affects many African children.
In Cape Town, a Pan-African “Kick Polio Out of Africa” awareness campaign will launch that same day with the symbolic kicking of a ball signed by Emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who himself had polio as a child, and has joined Rotary’s campaign as polio goodwill ambassador.
From Cape Town, one of the host cities to the 2010 World Cup, the ball will travel through 22 polio-affected countries to Cairo en route to the Rotary International Convention in Montréal, Canada in June. The journey is being underwritten by DHL Express.
During the ball’s four-month journey from the southern tip of the continent to Egypt, Rotary clubs in polio-affected African countries will organize football related awareness events to mobilize the public for mass immunization rounds this spring. On March 6-8, a total of 19 countries in West and Central Africa will participate in synchronized national immunization activities, targeting 85 million children under the age of five.
Former South African President Nelson Mandela, in his 1996 address at the Organization for African Unity Summit, formally kicked off the “Kick Polio out of Africa” campaign. He declared: “We are calling on the continent's football players to bring their enormous influence to this campaign. Only unified efforts which galvanise whole societies towards these goals will succeed in kicking this virus, that looks so much like a football, out of Africa and eventually, out of the world.”
Since Rotary began its fight against polio in 1985, 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 need to protect all African children against polio.
“Rotary and its global partners are on the brink of eradicating this life threatening, cruel disease, but as long as there is one case of polio, no child will be safe. A final push is needed to stop polio in its tracks, especially in Africa,” says June Webber, Rotary’s South African campaign organizer. “As we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the release of Nelson Mandela from prison this month, Rotarians and our global partners are determined to provide Madiba (Mandela’s Xhosa title) with a lasting legacy.”
Through an alliance with the African Football Confederation, leading players from across the continent have participated in the “Kick Polio out of Africa” awareness campaign by distributing posters, conducting radio interviews and holding autograph sessions.
“As the world comes together for the first World Cup on African soil, we invite football fans –especially in the 32 countries that are sending their national teams to South Africa- to support our global campaign to end polio. I believe in the unifying force of football. By lighting these landmarks, Rotary is saying to the world that we can score that final goal,” says John Kenny, President of Rotary International.
The illumination of the Pyramid of Khafre is particularly symbolic because Egypt’s history spans humanity’s struggle with the disease. Archaeological evidence suggests that children living along the banks of the Nile were being disabled by the disease since pharaonic times. In 2006, Egypt and Niger were the most recent countries to be declared polio-free, leaving only four polio-endemic countries: Nigeria, Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan.
Because viruses do not observe man-made borders, previously polio-free countries remain at risk due to international travel and migration. Following a 2008 outbreak in northern Nigeria, the virus spread into neighboring countries and as far as Angola, Mauritania and Kenya. Of the total 735 polio cases in Africa in 2009, 388 cases were recorded in Nigeria.
However, progress is being made. The incidence of polio in Nigeria has dropped by more than 50 percent, compared with 2008. Only 13 cases have been reported since August.
“What this means in very simple terms is that we are now reaching more children. Ending polio in Nigeria is now more than ever before seen as realistic, clearly achievable,” says Busuyi Onabulu, who chairs Rotary’s PolioPlus Committee in Nigeria. “And Rotary International, as catalyst for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, is determined to mobilizing the citizenry toward ensuring every child is immunized.”
During the last national immunization days in Nigeria in early February, Onabulu says, a new, highly effective bivalent oral polio vaccine was used for the first time to target the two types of wild poliovirus in a single dose.
Polio eradication has been Rotary’s top priority for more than two decades. The international humanitarian service organization is a spearheading partner in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, along with the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and UNICEF.
Rotary recently pledged to raise US$200 million to match $355 million in challenge grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. All of the resulting $555 million will be spent in support of eradication activities.
Great progress has been made, and the incidence of polio infection has plunged from about 350,000 cases in 1988 to fewer than 2,000 in 2009. More than two billion children have been immunized in 122 countries, preventing five million cases of paralysis and 250,000 pediatric deaths.
Rotary club members worldwide have contributed more than $900 million and countless volunteer hours to the effort and are now working aggressively to raise the $200 million needed to match the Gates Foundation grants. The money is needed to help close a funding gap that could undermine two decades of progress. To learn more about polio eradication, including how to participate in this historic effort, visit www.rotary.org/endpolio.
Football fans can follow the ball’s African journey on this blog http://kickpoliooutofafrica.wordpress.com
For video and still photos go to: www.thenewsmarket.com/rotaryinternational