Prof. Omar Konare, Chairman of the African Union Commission (centre) assisted by President Obasanjo (right) immunizing a child to symbolically flag off the 2004 synchronized NIDs for West and Central African countries
The Chairman of the African Union and President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo has commended the efforts of leaders of West and Central African sub-region for their efforts at eradicating polio. President Obasanjo was speaking in Kano, Nigeria while performing the flag-off of this year’s synchronized National Immunization Days (NIDs) for the sub-region, tagged “Final Push To Polio Eradication”.
This month, more countries than ever before are expected to carry out their immunization activities together, in a common cause for children. An estimated 80 million children across 23 countries will be vaccinated in four days.
The countries include Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Cote d’ Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Gambia. Others are Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Togo.
President Obasanjo who immunized some eligible children with the Oral Polio Vaccine, to symbolically kick off the immunization exercise, appealed to officials of Customs Departments in the various countries to collaborate with immunization teams, especially at the borders during the cross-border exercise.
Also speaking on the occasion, the African Union Commission Chairman, Professor Omar Konare reinforced the importance of collective responsibility, and issued a challenge to all Africans to ensure that all children are immunized during the upcoming NIDs. “From today, I challenge us all – African leaders, country leaders, religious and traditional leaders, international partners, media, health workers, teachers, vaccinators and most importantly parents – to join forces together for the healthy future of African children”, he said.
Professor Konare expressed gratitude to all the polio partners, especially WHO, UNICEF and Rotary International for their contribution to polio eradication on the continent. Noting that we have the resources, Prof. Konare said he believed that with commitment, Africa would meet the global target date for polio eradication.
Speaking on the occasion, the Governor of Kano State, Nigeria, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau reiterated the safety of the oral polio vaccine, saying that the flag-off in Kano signaled the end of the OPV controversy in the country. The Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero, speaking on behalf of the Sultan of Sokoto and the Jamatu Nasril Islamiya (JNI) declared their commitment for polio eradication with a promise that traditional rulers “would ensure quality NIDs so that our children can achieve their dreams”.
A controversy about the safety of OPV and the suspension of the immunization campaign in Kano State, Nigeria for about a year led to an increase in the circulation of the wild poliovirus within the country, with exports to some African countries that had not reported cases of polio in the past number of years.
The synchronized NIDs within the sub-region is to ensure that all children below five years of age are immunized, as one unimmunized child is a danger to all children. Polio, it is said, is no respecter of sex, age, race or nationality, and respects no boundaries.