KPOA – Mission accomplished …

Rotary’s promise to kick polio out of Africa and the world took centre stage as the football signed by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu and dignitaries from more than 20 African nations received a rousing welcome at its annual convention, which was held in Montreal, June 20 – 33.

The Kick Polio Out of Africa football was handed to RI President John Kenny at the RI Convention in Montreal on June 21, by Marie-Irene Richmond of Cote D ‘Ivoire, one of the twenty-three KPOA country coordinators that participated in the campaign.

The “kick-off”

As Hans Vonk, the Captain of Ajax Cape Town, did the “kick-off” at the V&A Waterfront, Cape Town on February 23, The Old Port Captain’s Building was illuminated, shining a light on eradicating polio. At the same time the Pyramid of Khafre, the second largest of the ancient Egyptian pyramids of Giza, provided a dramatic backdrop for an equally dramatic message: End Polio Now. These events mapped the start and finish of the campaign on the continent – from the Cape to Cairo.

The KPOA campaign mission

To send a football through 22 polio-affected countries in four months, creating awareness of the polio eradication initiative of Rotary and its global partners, spearheading the massive National Immunisation Days (NIDs) to help mobilise the vaccination of  85 million children under the age of five on the continent of Africa in March, April, May and June, 2010 ahead of the world cup. The campaign was also in response to former President Nelson Mandela’s address to the OAU when 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 sill succeed in kicking this virus, that looks much like a football, out of Africa, and eventually, out of the world”. Rotary and its global partners rallied to this appeal with the Ubuntu spirit of Africa.

The journey

From the Cape to Cairo – the football would travel through 22 polio-affected countries. Senegal was added later, with an additional unscheduled stop-over in Abuja, Nigeria for the Bill Gates signing. Two further stops were Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt, where the ball exited the continent after its long Pan-African journey from the southern tip of Africa. The football was then flown to Montreal.

Signing and impressions

For all those involved, it has been an exciting and unforgettable journey. Governments en route were united in their resolve to finish the task, some providing substantial funding to meet the shortfall needed. These are some of the highlights along the way …

please click HERE to view a presentation about all the stops, signatures and impressions of the ball’s journey

 

The challenge – that final 1%

When former President Nelson Mandela launched the Kick Polio out of Africa campaign originally in 1996, almost all countries in Africa were still suffering from polio. Today, polio eradication sits at a critical juncture. Across Africa, 10 of the 15 previously polio-free countries re-infected in 2009 have successfully stopped their outbreaks. Nowhere is progress more evident than in Nigeria — the last remaining polio endemic country on the continent – where case numbers have plummeted by 99 percent, from 312 cases at this time last year, to three cases in 2010.

In his keynote address at the Rotary Convention on June 22, Bruce Aylward, director of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative at the World Health Organization (WHO), encouraged the thousands of Rotary members in attendance to share the “terrific news” that polio is on the run, and that Rotary’s vision of a polio-free world is within sight.

“The stakes are now much higher, because in the past 12 months you have proved, without a doubt, that polio can be eradicated. The world has also learned the full consequences of failure,” said Aylward, referring to a current polio outbreak in Tajikistan which is now showing signs of stopping.

The polio eradication initiative is facing a US $1.3 billion funding shortfall over the next three years, according to WHO. Calling for support from donor countries, footballers, and fans from the 32 countries represented at the 2010 FIFA Cup, Webber said, “We need your help to raise awareness and the much needed funds to finish the job. This World Cup is not just about the game. This World Cup presents a strong image of a united Africa to the world – and the profound power of the African Ubuntu spirit.”

Beginning in 1985, when polio paralyzed more than 350,000 children in 125 countries every year, eradication has been Rotary’s top philanthropic goal.  Since then, polio cases have been slashed by 99 percent worldwide, with fewer than 1,700 cases in 2009. Just four countries remain polio-endemic: Nigeria, Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan. However, other nations remain at risk for infections “imported” from the endemic countries.

As the volunteer arm and top private sector contributor in the polio eradication initiative, Rotary has contributed more than $900 million and countless volunteer hours to immunize more than two billion children in 122 countries.

The alternative …

Failure to eradicate polio will result in an estimated 10 million paralyzed children in the next 40 years and will jeopardize the world’s US$6 billion global investment in the initiative.

Final thanks  …

It is said that “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. In this case it was a single kick. We have journeyed with friends. Rotary members are embedded in their communities and are dedicated to keeping their promise to the children of the world. We know we have the technical tools to end polio and the means to reach all children. Failure is not an option …. Our goal is in sight. The eradication of polio  is achievable.

Sincere thanks to the KPOA team, DHL Express and Sandra Prufer and Petina Dixon of Rotary International.

June Webber (KPOA Campaign Coordinator)

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