Thursday 19 October 2017

From Six Nations to United Nations - Donncha O’Callaghan on Nigerian mission

Irish Rugby legend Donncha O'Callaghan meets polio survivers in Kano State, Nigeria.
Irish Rugby legend Donncha O'Callaghan meets polio survivers in Kano State, Nigeria.
Irish Rugby legend Donncha O'Callaghan meets a family affected by polio in Kano State, Nigeria.
Irish Rugby legend Donncha O'Callaghan administers a polio vacine to a 18 month old baby Nazir at a UNICEF sponsored health clinic while on his visit to Kano State, Nigeria.
Irish Rugby legend Donncha O'Callaghan teaches some rugby skills at a village that UNICEF has immunised against polio in Kano State, Nigeria.
Joanna Kiernan

Joanna Kiernan

While his rugby teammates were busy preparing to take on Scotland in the first match of the Six Nations on Sunday, Donncha O'Callaghan is in Nigeria on a mission of his own - to eradicate the scourge of polio in the West African nation.

The squeamish Irish Rugby star doesn't normally do needles, but that didn't get in the way of him supporting UNICEF's childhood polio vaccination programme.

"I've brought my own kids to get their vaccinations with my wife Jenny and I'll be honest, I'm a bit squeamish with needles and stuff," he admitted.

"I had to leave the room when any of my kids had that heel test done. That's why I couldn't believe how simple the polio vaccine is that UNICEF is giving in their programme, just two drops on the tongue for kids under five and that will keep these kids polio free for life."

In O'Callaghan's role as UNICEF Ireland ambassador, the Irish and Munster rugby second-row forward spent four days in Nigeria to gauge the extent of the polio problem, visiting medical centres to view the vaccines being administered at first hand and even administered the dose to a number of children himself.

"It's a really sad thing to see people suffering needlessly when polio is so easily prevented. Even I gave four of the kids the vaccinations, it's that easy and it costs cents," Donncha told Independent.ie

Donncha has made a number of trips abroad with UNICEF and says these experiences have had a profound affect on him.

"The thing I always take away from trips like this is that it makes me incredibly grateful for the life I live and for my family and friends," he said.

Irish banana importer Fyffes is financing the polio vaccination programme being run by UNICEF, which aims to immunise one million young children, aged five years and under, against the deadly virus. UNICEF hopes to eradicate polio worldwide by 2018.

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