LIBERIA: On Launch of Nationwide Polio Vaccination Ex- Soccer Star Essien Craves For Collective Involvement

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International soccer star, Michael Essien while on his learning visit in Liberia, has sent a clarion call to the Government of Liberia(GoL) and political leaders to collectively get involved with the fight to eradicate polio in the country.

The former Ghanaian celebrated football star is currently on a learning visit in Liberia along with his wife, Akosua Puni Essien to advocate for the eradication of polio.

The Essiens’ visit has been organized by the Gates Foundation and UNICEF in coordination with the GoL.

This visit aims to support the Liberian government’s ongoing efforts to eradicate polio, and increase child immunization, coinciding with the synchronized polio campaign across Liberia and six West African countries.

As part of the visit, he attended a major press conference on Tuesday, June 4, 2024 at the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports in the City of Paynesville, outside Monrovia.

The media engagement with the international football star focused on Polio Eradication in Liberia and understands ongoing efforts geared towards this fight.

Addressing a team of local and international journalists, Ambassador Essien stressed that the participation of the Liberian government and all political leaders in the fight against polio disease across the country is key and it plays a major role in eradicating the disease.

He noted that the consideration of this call by major policymakers in government, including parents, political actors and institutions will definitely help the children to stay alive and remain healthy.

“The national government and all politicians need to participate in this fight. UNICEF is just an institution and I am an individual who is supporting this fight but if the political will is not demonstrated by the relevant authorities, we will be fighting zero battle,” Ambassador Essien emphasized.

The legendary footballer also urged the key policy actors to make the necessary sacrifices by getting more engaged with the process and motivate the kids to get vaccinated.

“The next time when I come here [Liberia], I would love to see zero polio cases because we want to make sure that we kick out this very deadly disease,” the international soccer star said.

At the same time, the star expressed delight for his pick by the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) in the fight against polio in Liberia and Africa.

He vouched his full support to the “End Polio Campaign” in Liberia, and expressed optimism that the actual goal for the initiative will be achieved collaboratively.

The football icon encouraged all families or parents of children affected by polio disease in Liberia and across Africa to ensure their kids are vaccinated, underscoring the significance of the polio vaccination.

“When I was little, I got vaccinated and I can assure them it is very safe and it is very good to get it done,” he noted.

During their visit, the Essiens have engaged in a learning trip focused on immunization and polio eradication efforts in Liberia, understanding the vaccine infrastructure, and listening to personal stories from families and children receiving vaccines as well as the health care workers administering them.

The Essiens also participated in a friendly football game with young athletes in Liberia on the SKD playing pitch.

Madam Akosua Puni Essien, wife of the soccer star, expressed her enthusiasm for the eradication efforts in Liberia, stating, “It is inspiring to see the coordinated efforts in Liberia to ensure every child receives vaccination to protect them from the polio virus”.

“I urge all parents and caregivers to ensure that children under the age of five-years-old receive their vaccines – the polio vaccine is free, safe, and crucial for protecting our children from this devastating disease,” she noted.

Also speaking, UNICEF Representative in Liberia, Andy Brooks said the selection of Michael Essein was in line with the UN body’s strategies aimed at finding potential individuals with the brand recognition to adequately spread its message to targeted areas in the African region.

He noted that the major message for the “End Polio Campaign” is to get immunized, get protected so as to avoid polio, adding that the reception so far received by Essien, gave him a lot of confidence to deliver the message.

“We hope to achieve more awareness, minimum resistance; you all know that there is resistance to vaccination so you can really allow people to really believe that this is going to protect their kids and it is 100 percent protected,” the foreign diplomat stressed.

He added, “The visit of Michael and Akosua Essien underscores the power of partnership in our fight against polio. Their presence boosts confidence in vaccination and highlights our shared commitment to a polio-free future for every child in West and Central Africa. Together, we can make polio history,” said Andy Brooks, UNICEF Representative in Liberia.

In furtherance, the UNICEF Liberia Representative disclosed that the Day of the African Child will be celebrated on Sunday, June 16, 2024 with series of activities from the 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th and especially the 14th; UNICEF hopes to bring together all government ministers, international partners, and children to put a spotlight on the situation of children in Liberia.

He named teenage pregnancy, low enrollment of kids in school, and the number of children’s deaths whether increasing or decreasing as major challenges that need the urgent attention of national government, development partners and other actors in the interest of the children.

In remarks, Cllr. Jeror Cole Bangalu termed the presence of football star Michael Essien in Liberia as a boost for the country and sent a major message in the fight to eradicate polio in Liberia.

“He is an icon and everyone knows that. To see him leading this initiative along with UNICEF sends a lot of messages out there,” the Minister said.

He also commits the Liberian government’s support to the campaign, adding that Essien, whom he said is more than a humanitarian, brings joy to Liberian citizens and the government.

According to him, the government through the Ministry of Health already has a robust plan for this initiative, noting that the presence of Mr. Essien in Liberia is the goodwill of UNICEF aimed at tackling polio in the country.

Also speaking, Mr. Adolphus Clark, Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) Manager in Liberia expressed his optimism about the campaign, stating, “Our collective efforts have brought us closer than ever to a polio-free Liberia”.

He said with the support of Michael and Akosua Essien and the country’s global partners, the people and government of Liberia are renewing their commitment to ensure that every child is protected from this preventable disease.

Polio Eradication Update in Liberia

Liberia reported 2 variant polio type 2 detections from environmental sampling in 2023 and 6 so far in 2024.

This comes after a period of almost two years without any detection of variant polio type-2 in Liberia.

As a result, Liberia has been prioritized for 2 rounds of nationwide nOPV2 campaigns, with the first round implemented on May 10, 2024 synchronized with Sierra Leone, Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire and the second round scheduled to begin on June 7, 2024.

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