Synergy Rotary Friendship Alliance comprising 12 Rotary clubs from 10 countries honoured Dr Tunji Funsho, Rotary’s Nigeria National PolioPlus Committee Chair, for his instrumental leadership to eradicate polio in the African region, at the Prelude to World Polio Day virtual event hosted by RC Ampara, RID 3220, Sri Lanka in October.
PDG (RID 9110) Dr Funsho, a cardiologist and a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of London, was recently recognised as one of Time’s 100 most influential people for 2020. “The award is for Rotary. Rotary has been on this mission for 35 years and incidentally that was the year I joined Rotary. And I literally dived into handling polio eradication because of my profession,” he recalled, addressing the online meet.
In 1996 when the Kick Polio Out of Africa initiative, following Rotary’s recommendation, was inaugurated by former South African
President Nelson Mandela, Africa was seeing 70,000 cases of wild poliovirus every year. This initiative galvanised the African countries to launch regular mass campaigns, going from house to house to make sure that every child is protected with the oral polio vaccine. Nigeria was the last African country to be declared polio-free by WHO in August this year.
“If we can do it in Africa, we can do it in the world. If we can do it in polio, we can do it for any other kind of intervention,” said Dr Funsho.
Speaking at the meet, TRF Trustee Aziz Memon said that countries like Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan are leveraging Rotary’s existing PolioPlus infrastructure to check the spread of coronavirus. “The battles for both, polio and Covid-19, are yet to be won, but the experience with polio has provided Rotary the readiness to meet the crises with more coordinated actions,” he added.
Susanne Rea, founder of the World’s Greatest Meal (WGM), a funding initiative for eradication of polio, said, “from as little as a dinner for two and a minimum gift of $10, to leaping out of a plane with a banner to raise awareness, to tramping in the wild bush with coffee and biscuits and then donate generously online, nothing is too small or too big!” A polio survivor herself, Susanne has been motivating Rotarians to organise various WGM programmes to raise awareness and funds for polio, and her efforts has helped raise $7 million so far, with matching funds from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The virtual event garnered more than 200 participants from Switzerland, the UK, Australia and Brunei. INPPC chair Deepak Kapur, Afghanistan Polioplus chair Mohammad Ishaq, RID 3220 DG Ajit Weerasange and DGE Cindy Bachtiar participated in the meet.