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Nigeria – Carol Bellamy visits polio’s last stand in Africa

Calls on government and partners to mobilise resources to end the disease and confront other grave threats to children

ABUJA/GENEVA/NEW YORK,  22 July 2003 - UNICEF’s Executive Director, Carol Bellamy, will tell the Nigerian government tomorrow that the eradication of polio in Africa is close, but still hangs in the balance in Nigeria’s northern states. 

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, is the epicenter of the last battle to eradicate polio from the African continent.  It is one of only four countries in Africa, only seven in the world, where the poliovirus continues to circulate.  Over 90 per cent of all cases of polio in Africa are now reported in Nigeria.  An intense vaccination programme, supported by the Nigerian government, UNICEF and its partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (Rotary International, the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, WHO), has seen the disease confined to the north of the country.  There, however, it maintains a tenacious grip, causing importations into other countries and threatening the whole of West Africa.

During her 3-day working visit (July 23-25), Carol Bellamy will discuss strategies for halting the spread of polio by the global target of 2005 with President Obasanjo and the governors of the key northern states where polio continues to maim children. Of the 73 cases of polio recorded in Nigeria so far this year, 35 have been detected in the northern state of Kano alone. The personal commitment and involvement of political and traditional leaders may be the crucial factor in turning the tide of transmission in the north.

“Nigerians have fought tooth and nail against polio” says Carol Bellamy.  “They deserve to be part of Africa’s wider polio success story. The task before us is simple – get the vaccine to every child.  Nigeria’s leaders have taken on this task, with all its challenges, and they have achieved astonishing results. Now it’s time for them to finish the job.  Nigerian children have had enough of polio.”

Bellamy will also be asking for greater impetus on education for Nigerian girls.  On Thursday 24 July, Bellamy will attend the launch of the Strategy to Accelerate Girls' Education in Nigeria (SAGEN), the national blueprint to achieve gender parity in schools by 2005. While Nigeria continues to make strides towards getting all its children into school, an estimated 3.2 million Nigerian children have never entered a classroom. 67 per cent of them are girls – the largest population of out-of-school girls in Sub-Saharan Africa. The cost of leaving these girls uneducated is already too high. Nigeria is one of the 25 countries in UNICEF's global '25 by 2005' campaign, an accelerated effort to get as many girls as boys into school by the year 2005.

As well as fuelling disease and poverty, the lack of a quality education has spawned a child exploitation crisis in Nigeria.  More than eight million children are trapped in exploitative child labour. Thousands more are being trafficked to other countries to be sexually exploited.  Their situation is likely to become desperate, as the incipient HIV/AIDS epidemic gathers pace among young people, with prevalence rates in 15-19 year-olds climbing above the national average.
“There is no question that President Obasanjo and all the state governors are committed to investing in children and in protecting them,” says Dr Gianni Murzi, UNICEF Representative for Nigeria, “But these children are slipping through the cracks in their millions.  UNICEF and the Nigerian leaders must find out how to stop the slide and mobilise the resources to do it. That’s the bottom line.”

Carol Bellamy’s schedule in Nigeria includes high level advocacy meetings with President Obasanjo, and the Ministers of Finance, Education, and Health, where she will commend the Nigerian parliament on the recent passing of the Children’s Bill and the Anti-Human Trafficking Act. She is also scheduled to address the Forum of Northern Governors in Kaduna and have an audience with the political and traditional leadership in Edo State.

 Notes to Editors on polio eradication in Nigeria:

  • Nigeria saw more polio cases in 2002 than 2001 (202 vs 56).  There have been 73 confirmed cases so far in 2003; all of these are confined to 15 northern states, with Kano State claiming 47 per cent of the total caseload. Most of the children infected are under five and 69 per cent of them have not been fully immunized against polio;
  • Nigerian polio has already caused one case of imported polio in Ghana during 2003;
  • UNICEF’s partners in the Global Eradication of Polio Initiative (GPEI) are Rotary International, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and WHO.  The GPEI is a public/private partnership and the largest public health initiative in history.  In 2002, the partnership vaccinated more than 500 million children in 93 countries, with about 2 billion doses of oral polio vaccine during over 250 immunization activities;
  • The GPEI recently announced that a $210 million funding gap had caused a tactical shift in the fight against the disease.  The partners warned that although eradication is imminent, the gap must be filled before we can live in a polio-free world.

Notes to Editors – the 25 by 2005 Girls’ Education Campaign

  • Girls make up the majority of the nearly 120 million children who are out of school;
  • Educating girls empowers them with essential information and skills that save and protect their lives and those of their future children. Educated girls are more likely to better protect themselves against HIV/AIDS and other diseases, have safe pregnancies, have healthier children and send their own children to school. They contribute to more productive and democratic societies and more economically progressive nations; 
  • UNICEF’s 25 by 2005 campaign is a major initiative to eliminate gender disparities in primary and secondary education in 25 countries by the year 2005. The campaign, which includes thirteen countries in Africa and six countries in Southern Asia, focuses on countries where girls’ education is in a critical situation and urgent help is required to meet the Millennium Development Goal of reaching gender parity in primary and secondary education by 2005.

Video b-roll of UNICEF’s work on polio and other projects in Nigeria is available.
To view clips or to order, visit:
UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, foundations, businesses, and governments. Contributions to UNICEF's ongoing support for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative can be made at http://www.supportunicef.org/

For further information, please contact:

Tom Mshindi, UNICEF Nigeria, Abuja: +243 (0) 9 413 4687
Allison Hickling, UNICEF Media, New York: (212) 326-7224
Claire Hajaj, UNICEF Media, New York: (212) 326-7566
Damien Personnaz, UNICEF Media, Geneva: +41 (0) 22 909 5515




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