Address by President Nelson Mandela at the launch of the "Kick Polio Out of Africa" Campaign

2 August 1996

Dr. Samba, Regional Director of the World Health Organisation;
Members of the Committee for a Polio-Free Africa;
Cabinet Ministers
Distinguished Guests;
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Africa is renowned for its beauty, its rich natural heritage and prolific resources - but equally, the image of its suffering children haunts the conscience of our continent and the world.

The legacy of our colonial past, lack of resources and the devastation of war have rendered our children especially vulnerable to disease.

Co-operation between nations across the world coupled with scientific advancement have made the global control of certain diseases possible. One of the great achievements of our generation is the eradication of smallpox from the world.

The World Summit on Child Survival in September 1990 defined as one of its goals the eradication of poliomyelitis by the year 2000. The "Kick Polio out of Africa" campaign is going to help achieve this goal and I am deeply privileged to be a part of it.

In April last year, on World Health Day, I called on South Africa to join the initiative towards a "World without Polio by the Year 2000". The response was phenomenal. Thanks to the efforts of our own dedicated health workers and those belonging to regional and international organisations, many thousands of children all over South Africa were given the polio vaccine.

In Africa as a whole, the incidents of polio in children have decreased from more than 4,000 in 1990 to less than 1,000 in 1993. The dedication of volunteers all over Africa as well as the tireless efforts of international organisations and external partners in this regard is to be highly commended.

But our aim is not merely to reduce the numbers afflicted - it is to eliminate the disease completely. No country can be safe from this disease until the whole world is rid of it. For it can cross borders with ease.

We should therefore take to heart the call by the Organisation for African Unity Summit last month for all African countries to urgently address the problem of polio and give their support to actions aimed at eradicating this disease from our continent.

Dr Samba is to be congratulated on the formation of this Committee for a Polio Free Africa, composed of such distinguished persons. Their role will be critical in securing co-operation from governments in the campaign to kick polio out of Africa.

Mass immunisation campaigns have started in many African countries this year. With the help of our partners, the World Health Organisation, UNICEF, Rotary International, USAID, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention and the government of Japan, we hope to reach 50 million children with the vaccine this year.

But we do know that the immunisation campaign will not reach everyone this year. The children that have not been immunised will remain susceptible to the disease - even in areas where cases of polio have not been seen for some time. And so to give meaning to the noble work being done by health workers in all our countries, we must attack the disease from all front. Every rural parent should be able to recognise the warning signs in the form of weakness in the limbs of a child. They should be able to gain access to medical resources to treat their children, and be able to prevent the disease from endangering their other children.

We are calling on the continent's football players to bring their enormous influence to this campaign. Only unified efforts which galvanise whole societies towards these goals will succeed in kicking this virus, that looks so much like a football, out of Africa and, eventually, out of the world.

It was a partnership between international organisations, governments, the private sector and communities that enabled us to eradicate smallpox from the world. Let that achievement inspire us all to redouble our efforts in this campaign.

The "Polio-Free Africa Committee" will be taking this message across our continent, even to its remotest corners. The momentum of this year's campaign must be multiplied next year and the following year, until we have reached every child in Africa - until we can safely say we have kicked polio out of Africa forever.

I thank you.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation