In a bid to take polio awareness to the grassroots, Nollywood actress and new polio ambassador, Funke Akindele, recently led several members of the Rotary International in conjunction with Cycology, a foremost cycling club in Lagos, for this year’s campaign against the disease.
Sporting a special jersey made for the occasion, the actress rode along with other riders ahead of the first ever Bike-A-Thon event which flagged off in Lagos on October 19 and featured several registered participants in a 5km, 10km and 50km exhibition ride aimed at tackling the polio scourge.
It also featured a variety of activities including cycling stunts, colourful displays and other physical demonstrations.
Prior to the road show, Dr Funsho Olatunji, chairman, Rotary Committee on Polio, told journalists during a press conference at its secretariat on October 14 that the committee was elated that the actress had agreed to team up with the campaign team ahead of its planned first Bike-A-Thon event.
“Rotary club has committed itself to join forces with others to champion the war against polio in Nigeria. This was why we partnered with Cycology, a foremost cycling club in Lagos, for this year’s campaign as we strive to raise $500million funds to support Rotary’s global efforts,” he said.
He also explained the choice of the actress saying that Rotary International, being an organisation that avoids picking personalities with dubious characters or scandalous reputation, settled for Akindele because a thorough research conducted on her past indicated that she is a great brand.
“Besides, her affinity with people at the grassroots is one thing they want to identify with. Even after we contacted her, to this present hour, she has not demanded a dime from us as sign-on fee or anything of sort even though we know how much she is worth,” he noted.
He further enlightened on the polio malaise, saying it is usually spread through contact with the stool of an infected person, and possibly through oral and nasal secretions. The virus enters the body through the mouth, in water or food that has been contaminated with faecal material from an infected person. The virus multiplies in the intestine and is excreted by the infected person in faeces, which can pass on the virus to others.
Globally, polio cases have decreased by over 99 per cent since 1988, from an estimated 350 000 cases then, to 223 reported cases in 2012. The reduction is the result of the global effort to eradicate the disease. It was agreed at an international conference in Dubai in 2012 that to eradicate polio from the world, $5.5bn would be needed in the next 5 years. Subsequently, many eminent personalities, including Bill Gates through the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, donated substantially towards the cause.
In 2013, only three countries (Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan) remained polio-endemic, down from more than 125 in 1988.
Sadly, as long as a single child remains infected, children in all countries are at risk of contracting polio. Failure to eradicate polio from these last remaining strongholds could result in as many as 200, 000 new cases every year all over the world.
On a final note, YemiOsilaja, chairman of the Planning Committee, disclosed that the Bike-A-Thon programme had cost the organisation a whopping N6 million to organise, albeit with the support of other private bodies.