By Sola Ogundipe
ROTARY International has announced $35 million in grants to support the global effort to end polio, bringing the organisation’s contribution to $140 million since January 2016.
Nearly half of the funds $16.15 million will support the emergency response campaigns in Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin (Chad, northern Cameroon, southern Niger and Central African Republic).
It will be recalled that four cases of polio were detected in Nigeria in 2016, which had previously not seen a case since July 2014. With these cases, funding is needed to support rapid response plans in Nigeria and surrounding countries to stop the outbreak.
The programme acted rapidly on this information, seizing on the opportunity of recently improved access to conflict-affected areas of northeast Nigeria to immunise missed children in the last half of 2016 often in dangerous and difficult conditions, as well as improve operations for a more robust outbreak response.
To stop the spread of polio, Nigeria, Niger, Central African Republic, Chad and Cameroon are conducting multiple emergency vaccination campaigns, which are being coordinated with the delivery of a range of emergency humanitarian services. Nigeria and neighbours must continue these urgent steps to improve surveillance and close immunity gaps.
While significant strides have been made against the paralyzing disease, with just 35 cases reported in 2016, polio remains a threat in hard-to-reach and underserved areas, and conflict zones.
To sustain this progress, and protect all children from polio, experts say $1.5 billion is needed.
In addition to supporting the response in the Lake Chad Basin region, funding has been allocated to support polio eradication efforts in Afghanistan ($7.15 million), Pakistan ($4.2 million), Somalia ($4.64 million), and South Sudan ($2.19 million).
A final grant in the amount of $666,845 will support technical assistance in UNICEF’s West and Central Africa Regional Office. Rotary has contributed more than $1.6 billion, including matching funds from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and countless volunteer hours since launching its polio immunization programme, Since the initiative launched, the incidence of polio has plummeted by more than 99.9 percent, from about 350,000 cases a year to 35 confirmed in 2016, and no cases in 2017.