by Ryan Hyland
Dr. Tunji Funsho, chair of Rotary’s Nigeria National PolioPlus Committee, joins 100 pioneers, artists, leaders, icons, and titans as one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People. TIME announced its 2020 honorees during a 22 September television broadcast on ABC, recognizing Funsho for his instrumental leadership and work with Rotary members and partners to achieve the eradication of wild polio in the African region.
He is the first Rotary member to receive this honor for work toward eradicating polio.
A Rotarian for 35 years, Funsho is a member of the Rotary Club of Lekki, Nigeria, past governor of District 9110, and serves on Rotary’s International PolioPlus Committee. Funsho is a cardiologist and a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of London. He lives in Lagos, Nigeria with his wife Aisha. They have four children; Habeeb, Kike, Abdullahi and Fatima; and five grandchildren.
TIME 100 comprises individuals whose leadership, talent, discoveries, and philanthropy have made a difference in the world. Past honorees include Bono, the Dalai Lama, Bill Gates, Nelson Mandela, Angela Merkel, Oprah Winfrey, and Malala Yousafzai.
“I’m honored to be recognized by TIME for my part in ensuring that no child in Africa will ever again be paralyzed by wild polio, a disease that once disabled 75,000 African children every single year,” said Funsho. “Eradicating the wild poliovirus in Africa was a team effort that required cooperation and dedication of governments, partners, Rotary members, hundreds of thousands of health workers, and countless parents who chose to have their children vaccinated against polio.”
As the chair of Rotary’s Nigeria National PolioPlus Committee, since 2013 Funsho has led PolioPlus efforts in the country, building upon the work of his predecessors. He has worked alongside Rotarians in Nigeria to raise awareness about the importance of polio immunization, encouraged governments and public figures to support polio eradication, and served as a vocal leader and advocate for Rotary and its fight to end polio. He works closely with the Global Polio Eradication Initiative partner organizations: the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.
As a member of Nigeria’s Presidential Task Force on Polio, he has coordinated immunizations and advocacy campaigns with the Minister of State for Health and the Inter-Agency Coordination Committee for Polio Eradication. He has also worked closely with the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation, the Dangote Foundation, the Traditional Leaders Council and the Federation of Muslim Women’s Association of Nigeria.
In August 2019, Nigeria reached three years without a case of wild poliovirus. Nigeria’s progress, led by Rotary, its partners and local and national governments, was the result of decades of sustained efforts, including domestic and international financing, the commitment of hundreds of thousands of health workers, and innovative strategies to immunize children who previously couldn’t be reached due to insecurity in the country’s northern states.
On 25 August, the African region was certified wild polio-free. This historic announcement means that five of the WHO’s six regions, representing more than 90 percent of the world’s population, are now free of the wild poliovirus. The virus is still endemic in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
With Africa’s milestone, Rotary and its partners took a major step forward toward their goal of global eradication. Funsho told TIME magazine of the achievement: “The polio eradication program in Nigeria has gone through some difficult times, but I never once doubted that this day would come. Any time that we’ve experienced a setback, Rotary and our partners have been able to find solutions and develop strategies for reaching vulnerable children.”
He added: “One thing I know for certain, is if Nigeria could eliminate the wild poliovirus, any country can eliminate it.”