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WHAT I SAW AT ORAIFITE!

20 March 2014

By Raheem Oluwafunminiyi

As an independent writer, one which spans almost a decade, my writings have always tilted towards political issues, especially as it affects the mass of the poor both locally and on the global stage. I was however, surprised when I was challenged by a superior to visit Oraifite community in Ekwusigo Local Government Area of Anambra state, to witness and write on an epochal event, one that will forever remain evergreen not only for me personally but also many Oraifite people who came for the progarmme.

I agreed to be part of the event for two reasons. The first being that it marked the National Immunization Day which flagged off in Oraifite and second for the symbolism of the day which heralded the hand of philanthropy through the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation whose effort towards the fight and eradication of polio nationally and globally has remained uniquely monumental.

Oraifite, erroneously tagged a sleepy town by some commentators, was thrown into frenzy on the 1st of March, 2014, as the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation (SEOF) in partnership with Rotary International flagged off the National Immunization Day. It was a decisive moment for the people of the town and Anambra state as a whole for the simple fact that the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation through its founder Sir Emeka Offor (SEO) had in the last couple of years committed itself to ensuring polio is continuously fought to a standstill through massive immunization of children. The cause has so far yielded much achievement through series of financial commitments by Sir Emeka Offor over the years.

For those who may not know, the effects of polio are still evident in many communities and exist majorly in Pakistan, Afghanistan and surprisingly in Nigeria. This is so in both Pakistan and Afghanistan if one consider years of war, lack of access to vaccines, terrorism among other challenges both countries face. In Nigeria though, the fight against polio has reached an appreciable level yet we have still not reached the level of eradication. According to Global Polio Eradication Initiative, Nigeria is believed to have one of the most entrenched reservoirs of wild poliovirus in the world. It is the only country with on-going transmission of all three serotypes: wild poliovirus type 1, wild poliovirus type 3, and circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2. Sadly, states in the north of the country are the main source of polio infections elsewhere in Nigeria and in neighbouring countries. In 2009, however, operational improvements in these northern states led to a 90 per cent decline in cases of wild poliovirus type 1 and a 50 per cent decline in overall cases compared with 2008.

Happily, several efforts by the government in the last couple of years have witnessed a level of reduction in polio cases across the country. Quite recently, the Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu noted the Federal Government's commitment in partnering with leading stakeholders to help eradicate polio by the end of 2014. This was made known after Nigeria's impressive performance on polio eradication in 2012 and 2013 provided a clear indicator that the country would end polio transmission at the end of 2014. Despite the aggressive drive by the current government to see that polio is eradicated from our society, not much has been achieved in ensuring the process of re-immunization takes priority. It is pertinent to state that the movement of people from one place to the other facilitates the spread of polio and therefore, there is a need to re-channel the polio fight to this migration phenomenon.

The solution to this glitch is however near. Few individuals have taken up the challenge to do all it takes to keep the fight going. The likes of Bill and Melinda Gates through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gave The Rotary Foundation a US$100 million challenge grant for polio eradication, and in 2009, increased it to US355 million. Rotary agreed to raise US$200 million in matching funds by 30 June 2012, but Rotarians in fact raised US$228.7 million toward the challenge. It was as a result of the kind gesture and in order to render this crippling disease extinct that another individual took up the challenge by donating US$250,000 to Rotary International to assist in its Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

Sir Emeka Offor, founder of The Chrome Group, one of Nigeria's leading indigenous multinational businesses believes it is difficult to be a productive member of society when one is sick and so has committed huge resources through the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation to make the society a better place to live. Apart from his earlier donation of US$250,000, Sir Emeka Offor just over a year ago announced he was making a new US$1 million contribution to the International PolioPlus Committee. Sir Emeka Offor had explained that his contributions to a number of causes are motivated by his humble origins and as a successful businessman; he enjoys giving in order to help others avoid the circumstances he faced.

I spoke to a number of people, among which was Mrs Ijeoma Earl Okoro (Rotary District Governor Nominee 2015/2016) on why the partnership between Sir Emeka Offor Foundation and Rotary International is germane. She was of the view that SEO as a person is passionate about service and through the SEO Foundation has touched many lives and so by partnering Rotary, he has been able to increase the reach by providing a better and larger platform to actually do what he is already doing and do it best in a bigger, better and bolder way. Mrs Ijeoma Earl Okoro noted that the major challenge confronting polio eradication was advocacy, reaching people and convincing them that the vaccine is not poisonous.

"As a result of terrorism," Mrs Ijeoma Earl Okoro said, "polio vaccinators are unable to reach the hinterland where the children are. And the way it is, until the last child is vaccinated, polio will not be free, so if there is war anywhere and polio health workers are not able to reach the last child, polio remains endemic, so our problem is in advocacy, reaching people, convincing them that polio does not kill which is what the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation is doing and aggressively partnering Rotary on to achieve great results."

In his own remark, Dr. Edwin Ndukwe, Media Head and Business Development, The Chrome Group noted that the World Health Organisation (WHO) in February 2012 removed India from the list of polio-endemic countries, making it a momentous medical achievement. This status, he said, was possible due to massive financial support, advocacy, relentless research and strong political will.

"Nigeria could join the league of polio free nations when we address low routine immunization rates and surveillance gaps in polio free areas, maintain funding and political commitment to implement the eradication strategies."

"As a proud Nigerian and the First Polio Ambassador of Nigeria, Sir Emeka Offor desires that every child should be immunized to protect against polio virus infection. He is committed to making Nigeria a polio free nation," Dr. Edwin Ndukwe observed.

There is no denying the fact polio is still a problem for Nigeria. After nearly finishing the job of elimination in 2010, the country slipped, and in the last two years, the virus has made an unnerving comeback. The Governor of Anambra state, Peter Obi who was visibly present at the polio programme didn't mince words when he categorically noted that a lot was still needed to be done to prevent polio despite Anambra state being declared polio free. He observed that the major issue in the state was how to ensure a re-immunisation program that will capture those who travel in and out of the state daily so as not to allow the spread of the disease. Governor Peter Obi also praised SEO for his involvement in the polio exercise and urged others to emulate such rare gesture.

"The government and people of Anambra state remain very grateful to SEO for his involvement in this exercise. That an Anambra person in a state that is polio free can devote his time and money to become the polio ambassador is something that we are very appreciative of. That he is doing this in Anambra goes a long way and shows his commitment to the care of the poor," the governor said.

Apart from the high number of widows who came to grace the occasion, the movers and shakers of Nigeria's political space, friends of SEO, Oraifite community, captains of industry, business colleagues, Rotary members, Anambra state and many others were also on ground to participate in the polio programme. The roll call saw in attendance the Commissioner for Health, Anambra State, Dr. Lawrence Ikeakor, traditional rulers of Oriafite and those from neighbouring villages and Minister of Culture and Tourism, Mr. Edem Duke. Others include former Defence Minister, Prince Kayode Adetokunbo, former Senate President, Ken Nnamani, and Senator Chris Anyanwu.

The number of prominent individuals who graced the immunisation programme was not as paramount as the several hundreds of mothers who stormed the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation Complex with their little children to receive the free polio vaccines. There is no gainsaying that Sir Emeka Offor has taken the fight against polio to a whole new level and as the first Polio Ambassador of Nigeria and coupled with being Africa's single largest donor to Rotary, it is clear that the polio scourge has found answers through such rare yet massive commitments.

When asked by reporters on why he took such rare interest in the fight against polio, SEO explained how dangerous polio was to the growth and development of all children and his willingness in making sure he brought joy, happiness and relief to them through massive vaccination.

"I have witnessed from my relationship with the northern part of the country where I was born and where this virus and sickness fully exist that children are not able to get vaccinated which make them disabled. When such children grow and walk on the street of most parts of the country, they become beggars as a result of polio. That is why I want to make sure this disease is eradicated so that our children will be polio free in this country and the world," Sir Emeka Offor passionately observed.

As Sir Emeka Offor and other distinguished guests on the roll call took turn to administer the children with the vaccines, I quickly took time to ask two mothers waiting to also get vaccines for their babies how they feel about the polio programme initiated by Sir Emeka Offor Foundation and Rotary International. Both were happy for the timely intervention and assistance given by the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation. While the first mother who called herself Nnenna showed much gratitude for the kind gesture displayed by Sir Emeka Offor through his Foundation, the other mother, Ijeoma Madu called on other well-meaning Nigerians to emulate what Sir Emeka Offor has been doing for their community, especially on polio eradication in Oraifite and Anambra state.

More often than not, the fight against polio and its total eradication in Nigeria and globally can indeed get to the desired goal through the combined efforts of all stakeholders. Apart from the increased political will which has since witnessed much devotion in the last couple of years, other efforts must be put in place to see that Nigeria is declared polio-free. Aside increased commitment of health workers, inter-sectorial collaboration and integration of health services; improved funding of health care is germane if polio is to become a thing of the past in our society.

The National Immunisation Day and polio exercise flagged off in Oraifite through the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation in partnership with Rotary International is one of the myriads of philanthropic commitments of Sir Emeka Offor geared towards global efforts in polio eradication. There is no doubt therefore, that Sir Emeka Offor has distinguished himself by his unparalleled positive programmes which have impacted more lives in the last couple of years. He represents a generation that has created a niche for itself and one that think out of the box, especially in the course of human progress and selfless service to mankind. It is not every day one gets to find entrepreneurs, especially in Nigeria who dedicate their life and time to the poor and needy. Sir Emeka Offor comes not only as a backbone but stands as life support for many of these people who though have a heart but are heartbroken by the vicissitudes of life. With such huge financial commitments dedicated to the social welfare of the poor, Sir Emeka Offor for many has changed the face of philanthropy. It is not enough to have and keep having without giving freely to those who urgently need a life. If children are given the right environment to grow and develop, they will automatically make the society a better place for us and their over children.

If it is Sir Emeka Offor's dream to see that we all can bring about the final, permanent, and irreversible eradication of polio in his life time, that for me is rare courage. Such dream is one we all must nurture to fruition and from what I had seen at Oraifite, there is no doubt that we are this close to ending polio. Such dream will certainly come true!  

Raheem Oluwafunminiyi wrote via raheemfunminiyi@rediffmail.com

 

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