War on polio: A call to African mothers

Singer and activist Angelique Kidjo calls on African mothers to help eradicate polio.

The Nigeria strain of polio has been found in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya [EPA]

My family and my music are the treasures of my life. They are inseparable, in fact. My mother, Yvonne, has always been my mentor, instilling in me at an early age a deep appreciation of Africa’s rich musical traditions. Nurturing, supportive – and firm when she needed to be – she set the standard I strive to achieve as a mother to my own daughter.

You may then understand how emotional it was for me to finally join my mother in song on my most recent album, EVE, which is dedicated to her and to all the strong and resilient women of Africa.

Since the album was released, I have further dedicated one of its songs, Eva, to a cause that also is very dear to me: the eradication of polio, the infectious virus that has disabled and killed so many of our children over the past decades. As a polio eradication ambassador for the humanitarian organisation Rotary International, I have released a special video version of Eva that illustrates the importance of having all of our children vaccinated against this incurable, but totally preventable, disease.

I want this video to be available at no cost to everybody who cares about protecting the world’s children by stopping polio once and for all. I encourage every mother to enjoy the video and to share it with your friends, followers and family members. Use your Facebook pages and Twitter accounts to spread it far and wide.

But most important of all, I urge every African mother: Be sure to have your children vaccinated against polio, for that is the only way we can wipe out the disease permanently. When all of the world’s children have been vaccinated, polio will have nowhere to go, other than to the history books, where it will join smallpox as the only human diseases to be totally vanquished.

Lifelines – The Last Drops

Until then, however, every unvaccinated child remains at risk as long as polio exists anywhere in our ever-shrinking world. The disease, quite literally, is always a mere plane ride away, if not closer.

Across our vast continent, only Nigeria has not yet stopped the wild polio virus within its borders, although the Nigerian government and its dedicated partners – including thousands of Nigerian Rotary club members – are making tremendous progress.

But until the disease is stopped in Nigeria, it can spread back to areas where it had been driven out. We saw proof of this last year, when polio outbreaks infected children in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya. These cases were traced genetically to the polio strain in Nigeria.

So, mothers of Africa – and especially the mothers of Nigeria – please seize every opportunity to have your children immunised. Be alert for news announcing the next National Immunisation Day. Explain to your children why it is so important to receive the oral polio vaccine. Make it a family affair by enlisting your older children to help bring their little sisters and brothers to the vaccination sites.

I remember, as a teenager in my native Benin, being captivated by the beautiful Nigerian highlife song, Sweet Mother, by the late Prince Nico Mbarga. This lovely tribute to motherhood swept across West Africa and still stands among the most popular African songs ever recorded. Its lyrics describe the unconditional love, devotion and protection African mothers provide for their children. Be inspired by this: Be a “sweet mother” – not only to your own children, but to the world’s children – by protecting them from polio.

Angelique Kidjo is a Grammy Award-winning Beninese singer-songwriter and activist, noted for her diverse musical influences and engagement as Rotary polio ambassador and founder of Batonga Foundation to help empower young African women through education.