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    Thursday, November 21, 2013

    Making Polio History by 2014

    Last week, two of the world’s richest personalities, Aliko Dangote of Nigeria and Bill Gates of the United States, in consultation with others strategised on polio eradication in Nigeria by 2014, Godwin Haruna writes
    Polio has remained a sore thump that has embarrassed Nigeria in the comity of nations for years.
    Its continued threat to lives in Nigeria despite the country’s famed oil wealth appears to have eroded all the gains in the health sector since the country’s independence. Or how do you explain a situation where Nigeria is listed as one of the three countries with endemic polio in the world. This is alongside war-torn countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    However, it is often said that a drastic problem needs a drastic solution. The resurgence of polio in the country has forced the President, Dangote Group, Aliko Dangote and Micosoft Chairman, Bill Gates to come together to fight humanity’s common foe. The two billionaires’ Foundations, Dangote Foundation and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, joined forces since November 2012 to tackle this menace once and for all. This alliance struck last year would provide funding, equipment and technical support to strengthen polio immunisation across the country.

    Last week, during the visit of Gates to the country in furtherance of the goal to eliminate polio from the country by next year, the two men held several meetings beginning from President Goodluck Jonathan in Abuja, the royalty to the private sector in both Abuja and Lagos. Addressing journalists in Lagos to unveil their strategies in this long-drawn war against polio, Dangote said meetings had become like a marathon since Gates arrived Nigeria in their joint efforts to boost immunisation against the killer-disease. He started by expressing the gratitude of Nigerians to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for its initiatives in the venture. Dangote said that there was the need for all stakeholders to collaborate to ensure overall development of the nation’s health sector.

    He said that this would enable Nigerians to have unhindered access to health care services. He called on Nigerian entrepreneurs to “join us in improving the health and wellbeing of Nigerians. It is exciting to receive Bill Gates in Nigeria. He is very busy going round the world and we appreciate that he is here with us. He has done quite a lot for this cause and even went to the presidency for this same reason, met with the speaker of the House of Representatives  and also the Minister of Health.
    “We Nigerians are grateful for what Bill and Melinda Gates have been doing as they invest in various sectors. We decided to partner with him because he can’t do it all alone. It is also about giving him support. They have an excellent team on ground and we also have ours too and all this is to ensure things are done properly. In terms of his vision, he has actually helped to set up private sector health analysis.

    “Even though our joint programme to improve routine immunisation and strengthen primary health care in Kano State is only a year old, it has already covered considerable ground. Foundations like Bill Gates’ and mine hope to play a key part in this ecosystem and we will continue to support governments’ efforts in this important area going forward.”

    Dangote disclosed that they had just launched the Private Sector Health Alliance of Nigeria and it would serve as a platform for them to work together.
    Also speaking at conference held at the end of his two-day polio eradication campaign visit to Nigeria,
    Gates said that his campaign visit to some parts of the country was very successful. He said that Jonathan’s administration had shown full commitment to ending polio as well as improving the nation’s health sector and wellbeing of Nigerians.

    “We have received tremendous support from the federal government and some stakeholders on eradicating polio by 2014,’’ he said.
    He said further, “we are concerned about the health system in Nigeria. We are particularly concerned about the progress made on polio and we have given awards to governors and traditional rulers who had played a very key role in ensuring that polio vaccination is increased. I am very optimistic about polio, though we have challenges reaching out to the kids, but we have put in place logistics to help them know that the vaccination is good for them.

    “Last May, there was a big gathering where everyone committed themselves, including the Nigerian government, to eradicate polio by 2018 and to do that, it means you have to do a lot of work. But if we get things right, 2014 could be the end for polio virus. We are concentrating on routine immunisation, we are monitoring how the vaccines are kept cold and the supplies managed even from the primary health centre and we have seen a lot of improvement.

    “There is a lot to be done and it is exciting to know that we are partnering with the Dangote Foundation and we have met with a lot of people and I am glad to be here. We are not only committed to health but agriculture and financial services and we are advancing sanitation things as well.”
    On his collaboration with the Dangote Foundation, Gates said: “In Kano State, we are partnering with Aliko Dangote’s foundation to unblock some of the logistical barriers to reaching every child-from improving cold chain capacity, to better stock-management systems and motivating front-line health workers who are key to delivering successful health services.”

    He added: “Nigeria has the lowest number of polio cases in three years, restricted to only two areas of the country. Nigerians need to come together to grab this opportunity; the rest of Africa and the world are watching, it can be done.”
    Speaking in response to questions Dangote said the rate of polio in Nigeria, which had reduced to about 51 per cent presently, would be totally reduced to zero level by the end of next year as a result of ongoing efforts by the two foundations. He said they had intensified campaign to make sure that all children in the states where polio is prevalent were vaccinated. He confirmed that they have been receiving support from northern leaders and that many families had agreed to get the vaccine.

    On other efforts aimed at developing the economy, he said they were planning to raise funds with some private sector operators to develop the health and financial sectors of the country beyond the elimination of polio. Gates said they are currently working with the government to produce a regulation that would enable the poor and the unbanked to have access to financial services as this would go a long way to reduce poverty and develop the economy.

    The two foundations also disclosed that they are facilitating a $50 million loan from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to Nigeria for polio eradication and other child-killer diseases. The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Honourable  Aminu Tambuwal promised that the facilitated loan to fight the killer diseases would be monitored to ensure that it is well utilised.

    “I listened to your address particularly on JICA loan and I assure you that the House of Representatives will do all that is required of us to ensure that when that proposal is forwarded to the National Assembly, we will pass it so Nigeria can assess the loan that will support obtaining the vaccines that will advance the drive for the eradication of polio. We will try also in our committees in the National Assembly to oversee the proper implementation of the funds and the resources that are mainly meant for those projects,” Tambuwal said.

    In appreciation of Gates contribution to the elimination of the polio virus from the country, President Goodluck Jonathan had conferred on him the National Award of the Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR) during the events in Abuja. It remains to be seen if the coming together of these two financial wizards will banish polio permanently as they had promised by next year.
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