African Rotary members unite to kick polio out of Africa ahead of World Cup

Rotary volunteers in Sudan welcome football on its 22-country journey

(Khartoum, Sudan)-- In the lead-up to the FIFA World Cup in South Africa this summer, Rotary clubs in Sudan and across Africa are gearing up for the final push to kick polio out of the continent.

A football, which arrived yesterday in Khartoum from Addis Ababa, was presented to Sudan's health minister Dr Tabitha Boutros Shukaya.

In a press conference she thanked Rotary and all the health workers and volunteers across Sudan for their efforts in providing excellent immunisation coverage for the children of Sudan which, she said, is now paying off.

"The North of the country has not had any reported cases of Polio since June 2009 and very few cases were reported in the South of the country where a big immunisation drive will soon be underway," she said. "As Africa celebrates hosting the first world cup in its history, we are using the football theme to finally work together to kick out this terrible disease from our continent."

Today, the ball will be the centerpiece at the national stadium in Khartoum before the premiership match between the Mowrada and Ahly football teams to help kick off next week's immunization campaign targeting 2.8 million Sudanese children under the age of five. A total of 45 cases of polio were reported last year in Sudan, mostly in the south.

The ball will then travel to Juba en route to the neighboring Central African Republic.

Rotary's "Kick Polio out of Africa awareness" campaign was launched on Feb. 23 with the symbolic kicking of a ball signed by Emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who himself had polio as a child, and has joined Rotary's campaign as good will ambassador.

From Cape Town, one of the host cities to the 2010 World Cup, the soccer ball will to travel through 22 polio-affected countries to Egypt en route to the Rotary International Convention in Montréal, Canada in June. As the ball travels through the continent, additional signatures are joining Desmond Tutu's on the ball as prominent Africans lend their support to this grassroot campaign. The journey is being underwritten by DHL Express.

In addition, several iconic landmarks were lit with Rotary's "End Polio Now" pledge, including the Pyramid of Khafre, the second largest of the ancient pyramids of Giza, and the Old Port Captain's Office, at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town.

"As the world comes together for the first World Cup on African soil, we invite football fans -especially in the 32 countries that are sending their national teams to South Africa- to support our global campaign to end polio. I believe in the unifying force of football," says John Kenny, President of Rotary International.

During the ball's four-month journey from the southern tip of the continent to Alexandria, Rotary clubs in polio-affected African countries are organizing football related awareness events to mobilize the public for mass immunization rounds this spring. In early March, a total of 19 countries in West and Central Africa participated in synchronized national immunization activities, targeting 85 million children under the age of five.

Successful awareness events have been held as the ball has made its way through Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia.

 Angola - The most popular and revered soccer player in Angola, Fabrice Akwa signed the ball to add his support to polio eradication.
 Uganda - The ball was received in a special session of Parliament and the campaign received the support of the Minister of Health and the Minister of State for Primary Health.
 Kenya - Prime Minister Raila Odinga received Rotarians and the ball to acknowledge the contributions Rotarians and its global partners have made in the eradication of polio. Minister of Public Health Beth Mugo signed in the ball in her office and praised Rotarians for the work they are doing.
 Ethiopia - The ball was presented to President Girma Woldegiorgis at a ceremony that was attended by nearly 500 people, including high-ranking government and non-governmental officials, African diplomats, soccer players, and young polio victims.

"In the last two years, no polio case has been reported, and if all goes well during the coming year, Ethiopia will be declared a polio-free country in 2011," said Nahu-Senaye Araya, Rotary's National Polio Plus chair

According to WHO representative Dr. Fatoumata Nafo-Traore, the polio eradication initiative has saved more than 5 million children from being paralyzed.

"This is a great achievement and we cannot fail now that we are very close to finishing the job: Sorry we are late for you, but we will not let down your next generation," she said while handing the ball to polio victim's youth of Cheshire services Ethiopia

Former South African President Nelson Mandela, in his 1996 address at the Organization for African Unity Summit formally kicked off the "Kick Polio out of Africa" campaign. He declared: "We are calling on the continent's football players to bring their enormous influence to this campaign. Only unified efforts which galvanise whole societies towards these goals will succeed in kicking this virus, that looks so much like a football, out of Africa and eventually, out of the world."

Since Rotary began its fight against polio in 1985, the incidence of the disease has been reduced by 99 percent. In Africa, only Nigeria remains polio-endemic, but the disease still affects children in many other high-risk countries, emphasizing the need to protect all African children against polio.

Through an alliance with the African Football Confederation, leading players from across the continent have participated in the "Kick Polio out of Africa" awareness campaign by distributing posters, conducting radio interviews and holding autograph sessions.

Because viruses do not observe man-made borders, previously polio-free countries remain at risk due to international travel and migration. Following a 2008 outbreak in northern Nigeria, the virus spread into neighboring countries and as far as Angola, Mauritania and Kenya. Of the total 735 polio cases in Africa in 2009, 388 cases were recorded in Nigeria.

However, progress is being made. The incidence of polio in Nigeria has dropped by more than 50 percent, compared with 2008. Only 13 cases have been reported since August.

"What this means in very simple terms is that we are now reaching more children. Ending polio in Nigeria is now more than ever before seen as realistic, clearly achievable," says Busuyi Onabulu, who chairs Rotary's PolioPlus Committee in Nigeria. "And Rotary International, as catalyst for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, is determined to mobilizing the citizenry toward ensuring every child is immunized."

Polio eradication has been Rotary's top priority for more than two decades. The international humanitarian service organization is a spearheading partner in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, along with the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and UNICEF.

Rotary recently pledged to raise US$200 million to match $355 million in challenge grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. All of the resulting $555 million will be spent in support of eradication activities.

Great progress has been made, and the incidence of polio infection has plunged from about 350,000 cases in 1988 to fewer than 2,000 in 2009. More than two billion children have been immunized in 122 countries, preventing five million cases of paralysis and 250,000 pediatric deaths.

Rotary club members worldwide have contributed more than $900 million and countless volunteer hours to the effort and are now working aggressively to raise the $200 million needed to match the Gates Foundation grants. The money is needed to help close a funding gap that could undermine two decades of progress. To learn more about polio eradication, visit www.rotary.org/endpolio.

Football fans can follow the ball's African journey on this blog http://kickpoliooutofafrica.wordpress.com
For video and still photos go to: www.thenewsmarket.com/rotaryinternational

Contcat: Sandra Prufer, Senior Media Relations Specialist: Africa and Europe, Rotary International
Phone: 1-847-866-3208
Email: Sandra.Prufer@rotary.org
Media contacts are also available in all countries
###