Africa’s good governance icon gives polio big boost in Kampala …

Above: Mo Ibrahim – founder and chair of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

Rotary’s promise to kick polio out of Africa and the world received a big boost  from Celtel founder Mo Ibrahim by calling upon African leaders who met at the 15th African Union Summit in Kampala to finish the job of polio eradication. The 53-member bloc that gathered at the AU summit focused on health issues, peace and security, infrastrcture, energy and food security during its three-day summit.  

“While the fight against polio has been overwhelmingly successful, it’s important to remember that it has not been won. 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’,” wrote the Sudanese-born telecommunication entrepreneur in an op-ed published in the South African newspaper Mail & Guardian on July 23. Follow this link to his M&G opinion piece http://www.mg.co.za/article/2010-07-23-good-governance-crucial-in-fight-against-polio.

In this article Mo Ibrahim went on to write: “There are two valuable lessons to be drawn from this experience. Firstly, it emphasises the importance of good governance in fighting disease. The Kick Polio Out of Africa campaign has commended the political leaders of Nigeria, and government officials in West and Central Africa, for their commitment to polio eradication, a commitment which has manifested itself in effective policies and ultimately a decrease in new infections”.

“Eradication campaigns on such a large scale require, at minimum, cooperation from governments. It is important to remember that good governance is not always about direct action from governments; it is sometimes just about allowing others to do their jobs.”

“Another important lesson is the necessity of cross-border cooperation and regional integration in fighting disease. Unfortunately, polio pays no attention to border posts or immigration officials, so countries have to work together. After a polio outbreak in northern Nigeria in 2008, the virus spread again into neighbouring countries and as far as Angola, Mauritania and Kenya.  This highlights the need for all countries have preventative vaccination policies to safeguard their population. Cooperation on such a global scale might sound far-fetched, but it has worked before – smallpox was completely eradicated in 1979 after a joint global effort.”

Friday, July 30 marks 1 year since the last polio case in the Horn of Africa, meaning that the region is once again polio-free. On 18 June, the new Global Polio Eradication Initiative Strategic Plan 2010-2012 to eradicate wild poliovirus was launched at a key stakeholder meeting in Geneva. While stakeholders fully endorsed the range of approaches and new tools in the new strategic plan – which are already showing positive results – a $1.3 billion funding gap is forcing a reprioritization of further planned activities to respond to the outbreaks in west Africa. A GPEI statement will soon be released to mark the achievement of a “Polio Free Horn of Africa” and posted on this blog for information.

In the Global Montly GPEI report of June 2010 it is recorded that as of 24 June, the DRC has been polio-free for 12 months. However, a recent cluster of cases in north-eastern Angola, close to DRC’s border, underlines the need to raise childhood immunity to protect against wild poliovirus importations. As Mo Ibrahim says – “This is not the time to relax and say ‘job done’”. We all need to keep our eye firmly on the KPOA ball until we reach our final goal!

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