Two continents, two Polio Eradication Champions

Rotary International recognises some of polio eradication’s biggest names

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Rotary International’s Wilfrid Wilkinson presents President Goodluck Jonathan with the award. Photo courtesy of the Nigeria PolioPlus Committee

30 April 2012 – Under normal circumstances, the president of an African country and a Bollywood megastar wouldn’t have much in common. But Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan and India’s Amitabh Bachchan were both recognised as Polio Eradication Champions by Rotary International over the past month.

In a ceremony broadcast on Nigerian national television on 23 April, Rotary International’s incoming chair of the Rotary Foundation board of Trustees, Wilfrid Wilkinson, presented President Jonathan with the award in recognition of his continued political and increasing financial support for polio eradication. Facing a recent upsurge in polio cases, the President has overseen the drafting and roll-out of a new National Emergency Action Plan.

“One thing I promise the Nigerian child, and also the Nigerian father and mother, is that if we cannot solve all the health problems in this country now, one thing this present administration is committed to is to eradicate polio by 2015,” Jonathan said. “I have already told the minister of state for health, [who] directly oversees this aspect, that we must do all that we can to eradicate polio in the next two years in this country.”

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Amitabh Bachchan, on the other hand, is one of Indian cinema’s most renowned actors, beginning his career in the late 1960s and continuing to star in films today. Not content to simply rest on his laurels and enjoy the wealth and celebrity that his lengthy career has brought him, Bachchan has long used his status to advocate for polio eradication as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. Bachchan’s megastar status means that when he uses his famously deep and authoritative voice to tell parents to vaccinate their children, they listen. Bachchan received the award at a ceremony in Mumbai, India, on April 19.

One of Rotary’s highest honours, the Polio Eradication Champion Award has recognized include India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari, and David Cameron, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

Meanwhile, in a ceremony at Capitol Hill in Washington DC, the United States, on 24 April, Rotary also named seven US Congressmen as Congressional Champions for Polio Eradication – Lindsey Graham, Richard Shelby, Steve Austria, Norm Dicks, Tom Price, Denny Rehberg and Harold Rogers.

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