Launched on September 24 2011 in advance of the London, United Kingdom (UK) 2012 Olympic Games, the Polio Free Torch was an intensive 4-month media and event marketing strategy designed to mobilise wide support from a variety of stakeholders at national and state levels for the last lap of the polio eradication efforts in Nigeria. The campaign illustrated the determination of the Nigerian Polio Eradication Initiative to make the year 2012 the last year that Nigeria witnesses a case of polio. It was an endeavour of the Federal Government of Nigeria with the support of the Polio Eradication Initiative partners, the Nigerian Olympic Committee (NOC), and a number of Nigerian Olympians.
The overall objectives of the campaign were to (i) reinforce and maintain political commitment at National, State, and Local Governments levels for the Polio Eradication Initiative (PEI) by organising "Polio Free Torch" advocacy events at National and High Risk State levels; (ii) address caregivers' resistance to the oral polio vaccine (OPV) through an intensive radio campaign; and (ii) mobilise new partners, including those from the private sector, to generate sustainable support to the PEI in Nigeria.
Using high-level advocacy, mass media, and community involvement, the campaign was designed to overcome resistance to polio immunisation and to mobilise wide support from a variety of stakeholders at National and State levels for the last lap of the polio eradication efforts in Nigeria. "The Polio-free Torch will serve as a reminder to all Nigerians that a healthy Nigerian child can grow up to be an Olympian and win laurels for the country," said the Vice-President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Namadi Sambo, on behalf of the President, Goodluck Jonathan.
The campaign kickoff at the federal level was followed by a series of state-level launches in the Northern states, which are still considered at very high risk from the wild polio virus. The Polio Free Torch travelled from state to state to engage Governors, Local Government Association (LGA) Chairmen, and a number of influencers in the North to support the PEI. The Polio Free Torch event featured a lighting of the torch by each State's Governor to symbolise the state's commitment to eradicate polio by the London 2012 Olympics. Governors then decorated a number of key influencers as "Polio Ambassadors" with polio-free lapels. To support the public Polio Free Torch events, the campaign was carried out in the mass media through radio, television, and print - including a public service announcement (PSA) and series of print posters featuring Nigerian Olympians.
According to organisers, significant progress has been achieved in Nigeria, with the number of cases collapsing by more than 95% in 2010. However, in 2011, Nigeria recorded 61 cases of wild poliovirus (WPV) in 8 States, compared to 21 cases in 2010. The states of Borno, Kano, Kebbi, and Sokoto account for approximately 85% of all cases nationally. Continued community resistance to the programme is profoundly impacting progress. Non-compliance still makes up a significant proportion of total missed children, and is on the rise in some high-risk areas. This upsurge of polio cases is due to higher number of under-immunised population groups and pockets of non-compliance in a few northern states. Routine immunisation coverage also remains below 80% nationally, with sub-optimal performance by northern states.
For further information, consult Polio Free Nigeria's:
Federal Government of Nigeria, the Nigerian Olympic Committee (NOC), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Rotary International, and the World Health Organization (WHO). Flash IT Solutions was among the corporate companies responding to the "call for support" issued by PEI partners, by designing and hosting free of charge a dedicated website for the campaign. The telecommunication company Visafone also supported the campaign by financing print advertisement in the newspapers.
"Nigeria: Addressing Communication Challenges - Polio Communication 2011 Summary Report" [PDF], November 30 2011; Polio Free Torch Campaign website, February 27 2012; and emails from Tommi Mika Laulajainen and Nnenna Ihebuzor to The Communication Initiative on February 29 2012 and April 11 2013, respectively.