World Vaccination Week: Dangote, Bill Gates speak on efforts to end polio

In a push to eliminate polio in Africa and rid the world of the disease, Aliko Dangote and Bill and Melinda Gates foundations have engaged more than 138,000 vaccinators to conduct vaccinations across five African countries in the Lake Chad area.

In a joint press statement on Tuesday to mark the World Immunization Week (April 24 to 30), the two foundations reiterated their commitment towards improving health in Africa by coordinating their efforts to making people everywhere understand the importance of getting immunised against vaccine-preventable diseases.

According to the statement, vaccines are one of the best tools to save lives in an epidemic, such as the Meningitis C outbreak happening now in Nigeria and other West African countries.

The foundations said they expect the vaccinators to go the extra mile in ensuring that every child across Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and the Central African Republic is immunised. 

On polio eradication, Nigeria has recorded 95 percent success in reducing the disease in the country, with Borno state the only place in Africa where polio is still circulating, the foundations said.

Mr. Dangote said while 95 per cent might seem like success, as long as a single child remains infected, children across Africa and round the world are at risk.

He said: “It will take ingenuity to end polio there, and it will take persistence to continue reaching children in the surrounding area with vaccines to protect them from the disease until it is eradicated. 

“We are confident it can be done and when it happens, Africa will celebrate one of the biggest victories ever in public health”, he added.

Both NGOs began working together on various projects to help improve health in Nigeria and across Africa in 2010 and have also been working in collaboration with different state governments in Nigeria. 

According to the statement, the groups are working in Kano State, in collaboration with the state government, to ensure that children get essential childhood immunizations against tetanus, pneumonia, liver cancer and measles.

“And when parents bring their children into a clinic for vaccinations, health workers can address other health issues, too, like nutrition, care for pregnant mothers and newborns and malaria prevention and treatment. We have since widened the program to several other states,” they said.

Mr. Dangote also said that because of the devastating impact malnutrition has on Nigeria’s children, leading to 300,000 deaths annually and causing stunted growth and development in millions more, Dangote and Gate foundations have expanded their partnership to include nutrition programmes across 12 states in Nigeria.

“Earlier this year, we also helped launch the End Malaria Council, a group of influential public and private sector leaders committed to ensuring that malaria eradication remains a top global priority”.

He added that underlying all these efforts is their belief that strengthening health systems is the key to breaking the cycle of extreme poverty and disease and kick-starting a virtuous cycle of health, productivity, and prosperity.

“In our work together, we have learned a few important lessons”, he said.

Mr. Gates said the NGO recognizes that improving the health of communities depends on a successful partnership between government, communities, religious and business leaders, volunteers, and NGOs.
“This ensures that everyone is rowing in the same direction. And it is essential to building trust so parents have the confidence that vaccines are safe and will protect their children from life-threatening diseases.

“We must keep innovating to speed up progress. This month, for example, vaccinators will test a new vaccine carrier that keeps the temperature of vaccines stable for up to five days, even in blistering heat. This breakthrough will enable vaccinators to finally reach children in extremely remote areas with life-saving vaccines”, Mr. Gates stated.

He also added that accurate and reliable data is central to any effort to improve health.
“Data can tell a health officer which communities are running low on vaccine supplies, where there are gaps in vaccination coverage, and which new mothers need reminders to take their babies to the health clinic to be immunized,” he said.

The NGOs however said they have hope that an African without polio is within reach. “So is the vision of getting life-saving vaccines to every child”, Mr. Gates said.

 “Success will generate more enthusiasm and support from across different sectors of government, business, civil society, and the media to tackle other killer diseases and the underlying conditions that affect people’s health, including fixing broken health systems.

“We know that strengthening health systems takes time and diligence. We are optimistic that Africa can achieve the future it aspires to.

That future depends on people working together across national borders and across socioeconomic strata to build the better world we all want”, he stated. 

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