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Small-town Kaduna woman Rahane Lawal wins global award

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Rahane Lawal, a Nigerian health worker, was among the four recipients of the 2019 REACH Awards in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, for her role in Polio Global Eradication Initiative.

Lawal, a mother of 10 children, has shown exceptional bravery and dedication in keeping her community safe from polio, leading efforts to eradicate the disease despite being kidnapped and witnessing her captors murder her father-in-law, Reaching the Last Mile (RLM), a non-governmental organisation specialised in the eradication of diseases said on its website.

RLM said Lawal works in a small town in Kaduna State, about 300 kilometres outside of Nigeria’s capital city of Abuja.

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The NGO narrated how Lawal spends each day travelling on-foot to visit homes and talk to mothers and fathers about the importance of vaccines in keeping their children healthy and safe from disease and disabilities.

RLM disclosed that Rahane maintains an accurate list of children under five years of age and pregnant mothers in preparation for vaccination campaigns.

Although banditry and kidnapping are prevalent in the area of Kaduna state where Lawal lives, the NGO said her work has remained unaltered.

“She was kidnapped for 11 days for ransom by abductors who knew she worked for UNICEF and assumed she was earning a lot of money.

“Despite this harrowing experience, Lawal continues to dedicate her work to keep the children in her community safe from polio and other killer diseases,” RLM said.

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Nominated by UNICEF, Lawal received the Unsung Hero Award for her bravery on the frontlines of polio eradication in Nigeria.

“Being recognised with the award has given me even more strength to go back and do more,” Lawal told The National in UAE.

“But we still have so many communicable diseases, so we want the world to really support Nigeria to fight all these other diseases like malaria and typhoid which are still out there.”

She said Nigeria needs help in the fight against insecurity “because we have not been able to go to certain communities because of the security situation. So the insecurity needs to be addressed.”

Narrating her challenges, Lawal said parents were not allowing children to accept the polio vaccine due to myths “– people used to believe that once they gave children the vaccine the child would become infertile.”

She said parents were suspicious of offering the vaccine free when treatment for conditions like malaria was not free.

“But I have 10 children and I used my children as an example because all my 10 kids had their vaccinations. So I showed them ‘look how healthy my kids are’. That has been able to persuade them,” Lawal said.

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Dr Richard Kojan from the Democratic Republic of Congo received the Game Changing Innovator Award.

Kojan was selected for his transformative innovation of the CUBE, a portable bio-secure emergency care unit which allows close monitoring of Ebola patients by doctors, as well as safe interaction between patients and their loved ones.

Nominated by the ELMA Philanthropies, he has revolutionised how Ebola patients are treated out of medical isolation.

Olivia Ngou from Cameroon received the Rising Champion Award. He was honoured for co-founding and leading the Civil Society for Malaria Elimination (CS4ME), a global network of civil society organizations dedicated to ensuring that communities are at the centre of efforts to eliminate malaria.

Ngou was nominated by Malaria No More. He also helped health workers influence the Cameroon government to increase domestic funding for malaria by more than 400 per cent in recent years.

Also, a renowned American epidemiologist and physician Dr William H. Foege was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award for dedicating his career to disease elimination.

Dr Foege is best known for devising the global strategy that resulted in the eradication of smallpox 40 years ago.

Awards were presented by Bill Gates, co-chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


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