Scaling up community health efforts in Nigeria

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Reaching the unreachable through leadership, commitment and working in communities

21 March 2013, Abuja, Nigeria — Upon the conclusion of his two day visit to Nigeria, the Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Mr. Bekele Geleta, today praised the Government of Nigeria and its partners for the progress being made in polio eradication. He called for increased investment in community based health approaches to provide the most vulnerable populations with equitable access to quality healthcare, information and services.

“The Nigeria Red Cross Society, in close coordination with the Government of Nigeria, UNICEF and WHO, is actively working towards strengthening community based health action with innovative communication and social mobilization approaches,” said Geleta. “I understand the Gates Foundation has opened an office in Nigeria and I am delighted as this will help to significantly scale up services in order to eradicate polio. We look forward to working closely with them.”

Two thousand Nigerian Red Cross volunteers are currently active in 11 high risk states. As community mobilizers they have the ability to change minds and attitudes, and to effectively extend health services beyond health facilities through culturally appropriate, cost-effective and sustainable methods right down to the house hold level.

“An essential element is dispelling myths about vaccinations, especially the polio vaccine,” said Bello Diram, Secretary General of the Nigeria Red Cross Society. “Rumours spread quickly, leading to fear. And the fear of a mythical side effect can lead people to avoid seeking life saving services.”

Earlier this month, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan reiterated his government’s commitment to eradicating polio from the country by 2015. The President promised continued collaboration with its development partners, including the Red Cross, to overcome the challenges that currently prevent immunizations from taking place in some parts of the country.

Nigeria, one of three countries in the world that remain polio-endemic, has historically been a global epicentre of transmission. Despite the recent setback on polio immunization in the northern part of the country, the initiative to eradicate polio in Nigeria has been yielding successes, particularly between 2008 and 2010 when total cases dropped from 798 to 21. In 2013, only four cases have been detected to date.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is the world’s largest volunteer-based humanitarian network, reaching 150 mil­lion people each year through its 187 member National Societies. Together, the IFRC acts before, during and after disasters and health emergencies to meet the needs and improve the lives of vulnerable people. It does so with impartiality as to nationality, race, gender, religious beliefs, class and political opinions. For more information, please visit You can also connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr.

For more information, or to set up interviews, please contact:

In Nigeria:

Nwakpa On, communications officer, Nigerian Red Cross Mobile: +2348034736200 / +2348023273627 - In Ethiopia

Katherine Mueller, communications manager, Africa, IFRC Mobile: +251 930 03 3413 - E-mail: In Geneva:

Pierre Kremer, head of communication, IFRC Mobile: +41 792264 832 – E-mail: