Anne-Lee Hussey, District Governor 7780 – herself a polio survivor – participated in the NIDs and attended the polio Summit in Abuja, Nigeria in Sepember, 2010. This extract is from her October newsletter.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” In the 25 years of Rotary’s journey to eradicate polio we have seen cases of polio decrease by 99 percent globally; from more than 350,000 cases annually to 1000 in all of last year. We have seen the number of endemic countries reduced to just four. For Nigeria over the last 10 years, hopes raised and hopes dashed, plans were made and changed, challenges were tough. At a time when it was thought Nigeria was a lost cause, the world awakened to a dramatic and positive change in their efforts. Nigeria has reported only 7 cases thus far this year. The Polio Summit held in Abuja Nigeria in September could not have come at a better time.
Nigeria’s National Immunization Days ran simultaneously with the Summit affording me the opportunity to participate in both and visit the primary cold chain facility for vaccine storage of northern Nigeria. The purpose of the Summit was to celebrate Nigeria’s recent success but more importantly, to encourage them to sustain their efforts. President Ray Klinginsmith topped the list of many Rotary leaders, partner agencies and various Nigerian political and traditional leaders making up the 400+ attendees.
Nigeria’s recent success evolved from a combination of events: the creation of a Presidential task force, a change in health ministers, a team visit to Kano State Governor led by PRIP Jonathan Majiyagbe, a visit by Bill Gates, signing of commitment of 36 state governors, the endorsement by the Sultan of Sokoto, total commitment by WHO Director General Margaret Chan and traditional and religious leaders joining the cause. And always, Rotary was there with its advocacy, social mobilizations, surveillance and funding and Rotarians within Nigeria and from away giving of their resources and time.
Two messages continue to resonate with me. The first came from his Royal Highness, Idris Musa, the emir of Jiwa, Abuja (shown here).
He stated that no one wants his or her child to be deformed; polio eradication is a great task that must be done. Justified in his comment that traditional leaders have been kept aside watching, he said, “If you want to send a message to the people you must know their habits, their character, their beliefs, taboos and prejudices. If you don’t know this, you will lose. The magic is from the traditional rulers. When you needed help with illiteracy, we were there. When you needed help with Small Pox we were there. What took so long with polio? When Rotary gave us the message, we took it to our people. When the development agencies sent us the message, we took it to our people.” When traditional leaders were finally invited in, the polio numbers dropped markedly.
The second strong message came from RI President Ray, who reminded Nigeria that though their success was astonishing , it was still an endemic country. He recounted the two reasons we must succeed with polio eradication. The first are the children who will be saved. The second is that the future of our organization depends upon our success. Polio Eradication has made Rotary more visible than ever before. “We have become a suitable partner for other NGOs. If we fail, we lose our credibility and our own members will lose confidence. If we fail, Rotary will not continue as the organization we are today. We must not fail.”
DG Ann-Lee concludes with the good news that “the Polio Survivors RAG initiated what ended up being 2 matching grants of a total of $120,000 to purchase new equipment for the tricycle wheelchair shop as well as supplies to build about 800 of these wheelchairs. We couldn’t have done it without the support of 7 districts, 25 clubs from the 4 countries of Nigeria, USA, Hong Kong and Taiwan. I am told it is the largest effort to date to assist polio survivors in Nigeria”.