What I Learned About Polio in Nigeria: Bill Gates
December 03, 2013 | By Bill Gates
I had a great visit to Nigeria last month and was able to learn firsthand about how work is going on polio eradication and immunizing kids against preventable diseases. There’s a tremendous opportunity now for Nigeria to eradicate polio and it was exciting to meet with many of the government and traditional leaders who are making this progress possible. I was joined on the trip by Aliko Dangote, a Nigerian and one of Africa’s most successful business leaders and philanthropists. Having his point of view on Nigeria and our efforts was really helpful.
On my first day in Abuja, Aliko and I went to the Polio Emergency Operations Centre, where government and donors come together to analyze the latest polio data, and plan the polio vaccination campaigns that are at the heart of this effort. They reported the fewest number of polio cases in three years, down 56% from this time last year and restricted to only two areas of the country. It was great to see Nigerians and partners work together to grab this opportunity. The rest of Africa and the world are watching. It can be done. And I believe it must be done.
Later in the day, Aliko and I met with the Speaker of the National Assembly, Ministers for Finance and Agriculture, as well as a private meeting with Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan. I’m excited about our broad range of investments in health, agriculture and digital money in Nigeria. By increasing agricultural productivity – in a sustainable way – and supporting widespread access to digital money services, we can reduce hunger and poverty, and help improve the health and prospects of millions of families. Science and technology offer amazing opportunities for innovative solutions to tackle tough challenges in Nigeria for those most in need.
We joined a meeting of the Presidential Task Force on Polio Eradication, and were happy to take part in a ceremony to recognize state Executive Governors who have improved vaccine coverage rates and reduced polio cases. We paid tribute to the all-important traditional leaders who are often at the front line of changing behavior and encouraging mothers to have their kids vaccinated. The spiritual head of Nigeria’s Muslims, His Eminence, the Sultan of Sokoto, gave me a traditional robe and hat.
At the same event, President Jonathan announced he was conferring on me the Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic. Both honors were very kind, and I appreciated both the tributes as well as the commitment of so many people in Nigeria who are working to improve public health and reduce poverty.
Aliko and I had private meetings with some of the Executive Governors on the front line in the fight against polio, and the huge push to get life-saving vaccines to more kids. I was really impressed by the courage and commitment of Governor Shettima of Borno. That state has more polio than anywhere else in the country and there are big security challenges to reach every child. We also met with Governor Kwankwaso and his team from Kano, which is the most populous state in the north and has the second highest number of polio cases. Both Governors are determined to improve the public health systems in their states.
Aliko and I joined the Minister of Health, the Sultan of Sokoto, and the House and Senate Chairmen on Health to launch Nigeria’s newest Routine Immunization Strategy. It includes plans for the introduction of new vaccines, sets out a multi-year budget and describes strategies for reaching all children. This is also the first time there has been a focused look at fixing accountability at every level of the program – from the release of funds at the Minister’s level, to the delivery of vaccines by health workers in the field. This is a tremendous milestone. I was encouraged by the increasing attention to measurement and using accurate data to diagnose problems and help health workers better manage their programs.
The next day Aliko and I were in Lagos to learn more about Nigeria’s efforts to improve its vaccine supply chain. We visited the Lagos State Cold Store where the staff showed us how they are now monitoring vaccine stocks at each district level to improve the availability of life saving supplies. We also learned more about their work to streamline vaccine distribution. Prior to the program, 43% of the facilities were running out of vaccines. Under the new delivery system, this has dropped to just one percent. Transforming health systems is not easy. But it’s exciting to see this kind of innovation taking root in Nigeria. It’s making a real difference.
Aliko and I got a lot accomplished in a short amount of time, and we met with some truly committed leaders and field workers. I left Lagos more convinced than ever that Nigeria is on the right track. Next, it was on to Berlin.