As a proud Nigerian footballer, I have scored many goals for my country. But there's one goal I still need to score--I want to help Nigeria kick polio out forever.
Growing up in Owerri, I practiced every day from sunrise to sunset in the hope of one day playing for my country. Through years of hard work and dedication,
I have been able to fulfill my dream. But some of our children will never have the same opportunities I did - children who fall victim to polio, a devastating disease that continues to threaten our communities. Many polio victims will never walk again, let alone compete on the football field.
Today, our country has a tremendous opportunity to show the world that we are committed to protecting Nigerian children - and children around the world - from this crippling disease. We cannot let this opportunity slip away.
Last month, Nigerian leaders joined the international community to declare polio eradication a global public health emergency and recommit to ending this disease once and for all. As one of only three countries where polio has never been stopped, Nigeria has a responsibility to help create a polio-free world. Over the years, our country has made immense progress against polio, reporting fewer than 100 cases in 2010 and 2011.
Globally, cases are at an all-time low. We are now more than 99 percent of the way to ending polio forever.
Yet, our hard-won gains are at risk of unraveling. The number of children with polio in Nigeria has tripled since this time last year, and the disease is spreading to parts of our country that were previously polio-free.
We have a unique window of opportunity to correct course and eradicate this disease. We're at the end of the game and victory is within our reach. Winning the fight against polio would be a historic achievement for our country and a source of pride for every Nigerian. But in order to beat this disease, our country must put forth its very best effort at every opportunity. We need 100 percent commitment to achieve our goal.
Doing our absolute best means strengthening Nigeria's vaccination campaigns to protect the most vulnerable children, particularly migrant families and those who live in hard-to-reach areas. It also means improving management and oversight of eradication activities at every level.
Donor countries must also do their part and help fund eradication efforts. With these commitments in place, success can be achieved, even in the most challenging circumstances.
We are already stepping up our game. Traditional leaders and immunization teams are working hard, going door-to-door encouraging parents to vaccinate their children. Satellite technologies are helping to locate communities routinely missed during campaigns.
Thousands of additional workers are being put in place to improve planning, training and reporting. International partners like Rotary International and UNICEF are working tirelessly with communities to educate families on the importance of vaccination.
This important work is not only helping Nigeria beat polio; it is improving the health of children in the poorest and most inaccessible areas of our country. Polio vaccination campaigns are helping to deliver other lifesaving health interventions like Vitamin A supplements.
Eradicating polio will also free up resources to invest in other health challenges, allowing us to save even more lives.
Most importantly, ending polio will allow every child the opportunity to grow up free from this disease.
Kicking polio out of Nigeria will be challenging - but great achievements are never easily won. I know this first-hand, having overcome many obstacles to get where I am today.
After we won the gold medal at the 1996 Olympics--and made history by becoming the first African team to do so--my football career nearly ended when doctors discovered I had a heart defect.
I had to undergo surgery and many thought my footballing days were over. But I refused to accept that my goal of returning to the football field was out of reach. I dedicated myself to a strong recovery and went on to play for more than another decade.
Like my journey back to the football field, ending polio will require commitment and determination. These principles are the foundation of our country and have helped us become the strong nation we are today. I call on every Nigerian to help us conquer this disease once and for all.