One more rea­son to fin­ish po­lio erad­i­ca­tion

Daily Trust - - OPINION -

In Fe­bru­ary 2013, shortly af­ter Boko Haram ter­ror­ists at­tacked and killed po­lio work­ers in Kano, north­ern Nige­ria, I vis­ited the city to con­dole with the fam­i­lies of the vic­tims on be­half of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. The fam­ily mem­bers who were from var­i­ous parts of the city all came to­gether at the palace of the Emir of Kano.

Af­ter ex­tend­ing our sym­pa­thy and con­do­lence on the lives lost and those in­jured dur­ing the at­tacks, I tried to ex­plain what the po­lio pro­gram was seek­ing to achieve - a po­lio-free Nige­ria and a po­lio-free world. Af­ter I fin­ished a short speech, one of the rel­a­tives said he wanted to speak with me. His younger sis­ter was one of the vic­tims on that fate­ful day. She was in her teens and had fin­ished se­nior sec­ondary school, study­ing then to be­come a com­mu­nity health worker.

Her wed­ding was sched­uled dur­ing the fol­low­ing week af­ter the po­lio cam­paign and she was work­ing as a vol­un­teer with the added ben­e­fit of a five thou­sand naira stipend that she could use for her wed­ding party.

Un­for­tu­nately she was killed in cold-blood by the ter­ror­ists.

So, this young man came up to speak with me. He told me the story of his sis­ter, look­ing at me straight and with blood­shot eyes. He said “we know why our sis­ter was killed. She was killed be­cause the ter­ror­ists do not like what she is do­ing. But we also know that she was happy do­ing what she did, to pre­vent chil­dren from get­ting a bad dis­ease. I want to let you know that we un­der­stand this. Please tell the gov­ern­ment to not stop this pro­gram. We want the pro­gram to con­tinue.” I could see the steely de­ter­mi­na­tion in his face and al­most got into tears, see­ing how this or­di­nary cit­i­zen was coura­geously trans­fer­ring his sad­ness to pos­i­tive ef­fect by en­cour­ag­ing us to con­tinue.

I thanked him and promised that we will not re­lent. Four weeks later we car­ried out an­other po­lio cam­paign and vol­un­teer vac­ci­na­tors con­tin­ued to im­mu­nize chil­dren all over Nige­ria. The rest is his­tory, Nige­ria is no longer po­lio en­demic and Africa is largely po­lio free at last!

As we cel­e­brate the World Po­lio Day this year, when the African con­ti­nent is no longer po­lio en­demic, we must ap­pre­ci­ate the tremen­dous sac­ri­fices of hun­dreds of thou­sands of health work­ers and vol­un­teers who made it pos­si­ble for us to achieve this suc­cess. In con­tem­po­rary times there is no bet­ter ex­am­ple of how or­di­nary peo­ple can come to­gether around a pur­pose to achieve ex­tra­or­di­nary re­sults.

From vol­un­teers of Ro­tary Clubs, health work­ers on the front­lines in­dif­fi­cult ar­eas, Mus­lim Imams and Chris­tian Pas­tors speak­ing from their­pul­pits, tra­di­tional lead­ers from Sul­tan of

Sokoto to var­i­ous vil­lage heads and “bu­la­mas,” town an­nounc­ers, mar­ket­women, po­lio-vic­tims as­so­ci­a­tions to var­i­ous po­lit­i­cal lead­ers,phi­lan­thropies, bi­lat­eral and mul­ti­lat­eral en­ti­ties, the suc­cess in rid­dingAfrica of po­lio is born of so­ci­etal con­sen­sus to do good and forg­ing ahead­de­spite all ob­sta­cles.

We must also never for­get the var­i­ous po­lio he­roes that paid the ul­ti­mateprice with their lives for us to achieve this amaz­ing progress.

Muham­mad Ali Pate, former Nige­rian Min­is­ter of State for Health and Chairof Pres­i­den­tial Task Force on Po­lio Erad­i­ca­tion.

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