August 25, 2020, was a historic day when Nigeria was declared polio-free. The man who played a key role in driving the virus out of the country is Dr Tunji Funsho. A former cardiologist and now the chair of Rotary International’s polio-eradication program in Nigeria, Dr Funsho has led PolioPlus efforts in the country since 2013.
Speaking with RFHA, he shares more about the work in the area of Polio eradication, a key role being played by RFHA, and some memories from the Rotary Family Health Days.
TIME 100 Most Influential
Dr Funsho is also the first Rotary member to receive the honour of being featured in 2020 TIME 100, an annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME magazine. Remembering the day when he heard the news, Dr Funsho says, “It was a feeling of numbness when I received that message from the Time magazine. When I came to the realization that I had been chosen as the face of Polio eradication for Rotary, I was humbled with joy. This was a recognition for the collective work that Rotary has done over the years. I am extremely appreciative that I was chosen for this honour and I have used that now to ensure that the job we started, we are able to complete, sooner rather than later.”
Keep Polio At Zero
Donning the cap with the slogan ‘Keep Polio at Zero’, Dr Funsho points out, “This is the slogan that we have in Africa and the only way we can do so is by ensuring that every child between 0-5 years is vaccinated against the Wild Polio Virus. That is the lynchpin. The door-to-door campaign that we do in Africa to contain the vaccine-derived Polio outbreak is critical and hence, we must increase routine immunization levels.”
“One piece of happy news that we received recently was that we have now administered 500 million doses of the NOPV (novel oral polio vaccine), which has been a game changer in ensuring that we put a lid on the outbreak of vaccine derived cases all over the world, particularly in Africa. We have come a long way from where we had started,” he adds.
Ensuring No Child is Left Behind
Tracking and monitoring the children is extremely important to ensure that no child has missed their immunization. Explaining how this is done, Dr Funsho says, “We have local volunteers in Nigeria, we call them community volunteers. These mobilizers are essentially women, who are from the community, people know them well and are trusted by their community. These women have the data from every household, they know how many children there are in a family. When kids are born in their communities, they attend the naming ceremonies and ensure that they are taken to their local health centers to get their routine immunizations, including the polio vaccine.”
“They keep all of this data. So, when we have any campaigns coming up, we know precisely, how many children we need to vaccinate in a particular community and how many doses of vaccine we need to make available, etc. Towards the end of any campaign, we have independent monitors who go around and check the efficacy of the campaign. We use the assurance quality system where we try and find out if we have missed any child, or if the right things were done in terms of marking a house, finger marking, etc.”
These Volunteer Committee Mobilizers (VCMs) help track the missing children. “In the review meeting, the team reports any such missing cases, then processes are set in place to make sure that these children are captured during the next round of the drive. So, it’s a very qualitative method to ensure that no child misses out on the vaccines and to block any gap in this process,” he adds.
Long-Term Advantage of the RFHDs
Talking about Rotary Family Health Days, Dr Funsho feels that these outreach programs have a long-term advantage in the communities they serve. “I have been involved with the Rotary Family Health Days in terms of providing support for vaccinations in creating awareness, which leads to creating demand. So that even long after Rotary Family Health days have come and gone, people will remember that they need to take their child to their nearest health centre and get them immunized, not just for Polio, but other vaccine-preventable diseases as well. This is a very good platform, not just to render health services, but also to create awareness, for caregivers, parents and families.”
“So, apart from the services that we provide during the health days, there is a long-term advantage for families being introduced to better healthcare by getting their children routinely immunized. The best thing RFHA does is creating awareness,” he says.
Apart from vaccinating children at the sites, RFHA also plays a major role in making the families aware that the vaccines are available at the nearest health centers, the next vaccine date and other important immunizations.
That Unmeasurable Joy of Being at the RFHDs
“Getting an opportunity to be involved at these health outreach programs gives us a different kind of high. The one you get when you see the joy on people’s faces, the gratitude they share after receiving a health service. There have been instances when we have gone out and found people who had dangerously high levels of blood pressure and they had no clue they were hypertensive or someone going blind because of glaucoma. These cases get quickly referred to hospitals and are taken care of immediately.”
“It is just amazing to be a part of the Rotary Family Health Days. The cherry on top for me are always the children at these health day sites. The joy one sees on their faces when you give them goodies, sweets or biscuits. Oblivious of what is happening around them, the consequences of a disease or the importance of vaccines, they are just happy to receive a sweet or a balloon. That joy for me is unmeasurable,” says Dr Funsho with a big smile.
An unquantifiable Experience
“My journey as a Rotarian is not quantifiable. It will surprise you as to what it adds to your life. One of my inspirations is my Rotarian friend, Jorge, who was a District Governor in 1995-96. I saw him and his wife dedicate their lives to work for Cervical cancer treatment and prevention. And I am so grateful to him for giving me that insight that this is something I can do and serve people. And as we know, doctors never retire. So, to have that vista is unquantifiable. For me, being a Rotarian is just go out there and serve your people. And good things will happen to you,” he signs off.
A Rotarian for 35 years, Dr Funsho is a member of the Rotary Club of Lekki, Nigeria, past governor of District 9110, and serves on Rotary’s International PolioPlus Committee. Dr Funsho is a cardiologist and a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of London.Share