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Rwanda First Lady Energizes Push for Polio-Free Africa

by Lillian Gahima
6:53 pm

 The First Lady of Rwanda Jeannette Kagame told a continental summit that just as Rwanda has eliminated it, Africa can also kick out the child-crippling disease Polio – one of the World’s six biggest killer diseases among children.

“The only way to achieve a polio-free Africa is to prevent infection by immunizing every child until transmission stops,” said the First Lady.

She was speaking on Saturday, Jan. 31 during the “Let’s stop polio and build a healthier future” luncheon organized by the Organization of African First Ladies against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA) on the sidelines of the African Union Summit, in Ethiopia’s capital.

Mrs. Kagame said African countries need to promote a strong routine immunization structure.

“It’s a critical component of robust health systems,” she told her audience of First Ladies and top global campaigners.

“And with robust heath systems’ will, we have the capacity to address current and future public health threats.”

Rwanda has not registered any confirmed polio cases for the past two decades. The World Health Organization certified the country polio-free in 2004.

Jeannette Kagame said any strides should engage stakeholders, communities and the media to ensure effectiveness.

Officials at Rwandan Health Ministry say engaging the community through dedicated community health workers and immunization campaigns have been made easy.

Rwanda has up to 45,000 trained community health workers ensuring large turnout at immunization centres.

In many countries, polio immunizations campaigns are often met with fierce opposition from communities that have not been well educated about the benefits.

“Drastic decrease of polio in Africa should be seen as a stepping stone towards full eradication,” she said.

She added that a continent free of polio would ensure a healthier future for Africa.

“We are inspired by the commendable example in Nigeria where polio staff was redirected to address the Ebola threat,” she said.

Meanwhile, at a separate event on gender –organized by OAFLA, Jeannette Kagame spoke about her signature campaign issue – women development.

Mrs. Kagame is the vice chair of the OAFLA group and among founding members.

“Men – don’t be an obstacle to women’s well-being,” she said quoting her husband President Kagame who made the same comment days earlier at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

“There are no losers when women advance, everyone benefits.”