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President Jonathan, Executive Governors tell Bill Gates Ending Polio in Nigeria is a National Priority

Vice-President, Governors sign communique; Gates announces Nigeria Immunization Leadership Challenge

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Phone: +1.206.709.3400
Email: media@gatesfoundation.org

ABUJA, Nigeria -- Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, today expressed confidence that polio can be stopped in Nigeria and applauded the country’s leaders for redoubling their resolve to help finish polio once and for all.  He also emphasized the foundation is a committed partner in the fight.

Gates, along with foundation chief executive officer Jeff Raikes, has been in Nigeria this week – his third visit in three years – meeting with top federal and state government officials, His Eminence the Sultan of Sokoto and other senior traditional leaders, UN partners, Rotary International, and NGOs to better understand the challenges they face to reach all children with oral polio vaccine and strengthen routine immunization. Eradicating polio worldwide is the foundation’s top priority.

“Nigeria should be proud of its tremendous success in the fight against polio, but we are at a crossroads and the stakes are high,” said Gates.  “If there is polio anywhere, there is a risk of polio everywhere.”

Polio cases in Nigeria dropped 95 percent from 2009 to 2010, proving that Nigeria has the tools and ability to end the spread of this virus. In 2011, attention to polio waned and polio has now re-emerged as a serious threat to children’s health.  Thirty-two cases have been reported to date in six states, a four-fold increase over the same period last year and a testament to how quickly polio can spread and infect children who are not protected.

While in Abuja, Gates and Raikes met with President Goodluck Jonathan, as well as with Vice President Namadi Sambo who convened more than 20 state governors, including those from states where polio continues to be transmitted. Gates also met with the Ministers of Health and Finance, the Minister of State for Health and other members of the federal Executive Council. Mr. Gates also met with the Senate President, David Mark and other senators.

The Vice President and governors, led by Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, Governor of Rivers State and Chair, Nigeria Governors’ Forum, signed a re-confirmation of the Abuja Commitments, pledging to reach at least 90 percent of children with polio vaccine with the goal of wiping out polio from the country and improve routine immunization. 

Mr. Gates and Mr. President met privately today at the Presidential Villa, and His Excellency reaffirmed Nigeria’s determination to stop polio.  Mr. President later told members of the Executive Council that he hoped Nigeria would have close to zero cases this time next year and be finished with polio soon after.

Nigeria is committed to stopping polio by the end of 2012 as part of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

“I am encouraged that President Jonathan and leaders throughout the country have reaffirmed their commitment to make Nigeria polio free, and to contribute to making the world free of this crippling disease once and for all,” Gates said. “Their renewed leadership can stop the resurgence in polio cases we have seen this year.” 

Earlier in the week, Gates and Raikes also visited Kebbi state to participate in a local Immunization Plus Day (IPD) campaign, and to meet with partners to learn more about the polio campaign efforts.  While in Kebbi, Gates and Raikes participated in a Town Hall meeting with the Executive Governor, state Executive Council and hundreds of traditional leaders, to thank them for their leadership and to urge them to keep polio and routine immunization high on their health agenda.  Kebbi’s leaders responded by pledging to end polio in their state by 2012. The Executive Governor of Kebbi committed to personally visit the home of any child paralyzed by polio in future in order to understand how to prevent others from becoming paralyzed.

Yesterday, Gates and Raikes were in Kano state where they met with the Executive Governor, who gave his full commitment to bring the polio outbreak under control.  Kano currently has the most polio of any state in the country.

At a press conference today, Gates stated, ““we already are contributing significantly to Nigeria’s polio eradication program, and we want to do more to help Nigeria reach every child with vaccines and stop polio in the next year.” 

Gates announced the launch of a National Immunization Leadership Challenge to all 36 Nigerian State Governors and the Federal Capital Territory.  The challenge encourages governors to provide the leadership necessary to achieve the Abuja Commitments for Polio Eradication and surpass those targets for polio vaccination and routine immunization.  Those leaders who significantly improve polio efforts in their states will be recognized by the foundation and will be eligible for support to advance other health priorities.  More details on the challenge will be announced in partnership with the Nigeria Governors’ Forum on Independence Day. 

“After my meetings this week, I am confident that the leadership of Nigeria can turn the critical situation on polio around. And, together we will ensure that all Nigerian children, and all children in the world, are free from this preventable disease,” said Gates. 

In addition to their focus on polio and other health issues, Gates and Raikes also addressed agriculture issues.  While in Abuja, they held a series of meetings with the ministers of Agriculture and Finance.  Yesterday, while in Kano State, they visited with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), grantee Program for Africa Seed Systems (PASS), which is training public sector researchers and working with seed companies and agri-dealers.

“We’re very impressed with Nigeria’s ambitious plans for agriculture and new leadership in agriculture, and the President’s strong support for agricultural transformation,” Gates stated.  “I’m especially pleased by the recent change in laws regarding the regulation of seeds, and look forward to expanding our partnership with Nigeria and continued collaboration on this front.”

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