Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN), Tuesday received in audience the Founder of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Mr. Bill Gates, at Lagos House, Alausa Ikeja, advocating that victims of Wild Polio virus be drafted to lead the current campaign to eradicate the disease.
Bill Gates, who came on a courtesy visit to the Governor alongside Nigeria’s billionaire business magnate and Founder of Dangote Group, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, is also a great philanthropist who has been donating large sums of money to charity across the world, through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, especially towards the eradication of Wild Polio virus across Africa and Asia.
In his remarks at the occasion, Governor Fashola said the most effective way to fight the disease was to look at how many of its survivors could be empowered and encouraged to lead the campaign towards its total eradication pointing out that they would be in a better position to spread the awareness among the people.
“That is one thing that I wish to work with you and with the Dangote Foundation to look at how many survivors that are here and let them lead the campaign as a physical demonstration of what can and what could have been, in addition, of course, to doing all of the things that we really need to do”, the Governor said.
He stated some of the hindrances to the fight against the disease to include lack of awareness among majority of the people, cultural beliefs, infrastructure limitations, transportation and management of the people entrusted with the responsibility of administering the vaccine.
According to Governor Fashola, the idea of drafting the victims to lead the campaign as the most effective means to fight the virus occurred to him when he met one of the survivors, Mr. Gbenga Kuye adding that the passion demonstrated by the victim in the campaign was important in getting the message out to the people.
He told his visitor, “That was why when I was told you were coming I thought that it would do all of us a world of good for him, at least, to meet with you. I am happy he has seized the opportunity”, adding that Mr. Kuye has been busy trying to put the story across to the public.
“I think in the match towards eradicating the wild polio virus, we perhaps have not put the voice of the survivors in the forefront of this campaign and, perhaps the voices of the policy makers have drowned that of the victims themselves”, the Governor said adding that there was need for the Foundation to look into ways to give a voice to the real victims of the disease.
The Governor noted, “The tragedy of the existence of wild polio virus in this part of the world, as one of the few parts, is something that we are not proud of and all of what needs to be done is out there in terms of knowledge. So, it is not such much that those who have to act do not know what to do, it is perhaps the approach we have pursued in trying to get what needs to be done, done”.
He recalled that one of the initiatives that he took to the Governors’ Forum about four years ago was that the Governors should lead the initiative of vaccination against the virus and, in that way, demonstrate how important it was to the leadership noting that the governors were so gracious in seeing the necessity for such move and some progress was made as a result.
“But looking at what we have done and what needs to be done, we are seeing logistical issues, sustenance of the cold chain, issues all connected with infrastructure limitations, transportation, management of the people we entrust with the responsibility to go and administer the vaccine, some cultural issues in some parts of the country as well”, he said.
Thanking Mr. Gates for the courtesy visit, Governor Fashola commended him and the Dangote Foundation for their initiative “to give a hand up, as it were, a fighting chance, to those who are vulnerable, who need a vehicle to express themselves and also to pursue their dreams”, adding, “Perhaps, it will become a defining moment in taking us nearer to the common goal that we share to get Nigeria off the mark for the existence of wild polio virus”.
In his remarks, the Founder and Coordinator, Polio Rescue Association, Mr. Olugbenga Kuye, a Wild Polio survivor, said he contacted the disease at the age of three and has been battling the effect ever since adding, however, that in 2006 he was assisted by Lagos State to undergo Polio surgery after which he has dedicated his entire life towards the campaign to eradicate the disease.
Describing the disease as not only a health but economic and social issue, Kuye said the only way to fight it was “when we speak about Polio to let people know what Polio can do to us” adding that because of this, he has appeared on Television programmes to preach awareness about the disease in addition to writing several articles in the newspapers and an anti-polio comic book titled “The Polio”.
And earlier, while stating his reason for the visit, Mr. Gates had commended the Governor for what he described as a tremendous progress made in terms of regeneration of the city in the last eight years which has made for a striking difference from when he last visited the Metropolis adding that beautiful parks and gardens as well as good roads and infrastructure built within those years have given the city a new look.
According to Mr. Bill Gates, a lot has happened in the city in the last eight years including economic growth adding, however, that a lot more had to be done in the area of the awareness campaign and distribution of the vaccines for the eradication of the Polio virus in the country.
Noting that Nigeria has a lot of children that do not get vaccinated against the Polio virus, Mr. Gates said his visit was to work in conjunction with the Dangote Foundation to know how to help Lagos State take the lead in achieving high rate of immunization against the disease.
Also present at the occasion were members of the State Executive Council, including Chief of Staff, Mr. Lanre Babalola, Head of Service, Mrs. Oluseyi Williams, Commissioner for Science and Technology, Mr. Adebiyi Mabadeje, Commissioner for Health, Dr. Jide Idris, Commissioners for Establishment, Training and Pension and Agriculture and Cooperatives, Mrs. Florence Oguntuase and Prince Gbolahan Lawal respectively on the State Government side and Country Representative, Nigeria Global Policy and Advocacy, Dr. Mairo Mandara and Executive Director/CEO National Primary Healthcare Development Agency, Dr. Ado Muhammad among other top government functionaries.