Rotarians and Countries and Lawmakers Honored for their support
Rotary International President Kalyan Banerjee presented a medal to Afghan President Hamid Karzai on 2 April in Kabul, in recognition of Karzai's support for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, in which Rotary is a spearheading partner.
Banerjee is the first RI president to visit Afghanistan. His visit was made possible through the work of Rotary Foundation Trustee Stephen R. Brown and Fary Moini, both members of the Rotary Club of La Jolla Golden Triangle, San Diego, California, USA, which has carried out numerous successful educational projects in Jalalabad.
During their 45-minute meeting, Karzai and Banerjee discussed how lessons learned from India's success might be applied in Afghanistan. Banerjee's home country of India was removed from the polio-endemic list in February. "I encouraged the president to keep up the intensity of the immunization program because, by doing so, they can stop polio as we did in India," Banerjee said. "Once it stops, it stops. You don't know when it will happen, or where the last polio case will be; but one day it will happen if you remain ever vigilant."
Continued support for polio eradication. Karzai vowed his government will continue to support the eradication program and said he personally would help encourage and educate the Afghan public on the importance of reaching all children with the oral polio vaccine.
In discussing strategies, Banerjee said Muslim leaders who supported India's polio immunization campaign could be encouraged to communicate with their Afghan counterparts to explain the importance of immunizations. Indian Rotary members were instrumental in gaining the support of influential clerics to help dispel misconceptions about polio immunizations within some Muslim communities.
Banerjee also said both countries could exchange teams of health workers so that Indian vaccinators can share best-practice approaches and learn more about the challenges facing polio eradication in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan is one of only three countries where the wild poliovirus has never been stopped. So far in 2012, Afghanistan has reported five new polio cases out of the 36 recorded globally. The country reported 80 cases in 2011. The other two endemic countries are Nigeria and Pakistan. Polio infections due to cross-border traffic between Afghanistan and Pakistan are a continuing problem, making bi-national cooperation essential. Pakistan has reported 15 cases this year after posting 198 in 2011.
Rotary's work in Afghanistan Accompanying Banerjee on his historic visit were Brown; Moini; Dr. Ajmal Pardis, chair of Rotary's Afghanistan National PolioPlus Committee and a member of the Rotary Club of Jalalabad; Mohammad Ishaq, a member of the Rotary Club of Jalalabad; and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker.
Brown and Moini have led several projects in Afghanistan and participated in National Immunization Days there. The Global Connections and Exchange Program, an education project of the La Jolla Golden Triangle Rotary club, administers Internet training labs in six high schools as well as a central training facility in Jalalabad. The effort is funded by a grant from the U.S. State Department as part of a larger initiative to promote technology, curriculum development, and international collaboration.
South Sudan officials are hopeful the country will soon be declared polio-free, as the latest round of nationwide polio immunizations wraps up.
Before 2008, the area that is now South Sudan, had been considered free of polio. That year the country was re-infected through an imported strain that originated in Nigeria.
In a country with only a 43 percent routine childhood immunization rate, there was widespread fear the highly infectious disease could spread. And it did. In six months after polio reappeared in South Sudan, 64 children were infected. All of them suffered at least partial paralysis.
But now South Sudan is on the brink of being declared polio-free, according to Dr. Abdi Aden Mohamed, the head of the World Health Organization in South Sudan.
"We are by now without a case for the last 32-plus months and hopefully, we will be able to say in four months South Sudan is polio free," he said. "We are very cautious in the sense of there are a number of countries surrounding South Sudan that cases might be here and there."
Polio vaccinations, every child under six years To make sure South Sudan reaches its goal the government, in collaboration with the United Nations, is wrapping up its latest door-to-door campaign. Volunteers across the country have tried to immunize every child under six years against polio. To date, more than 3.2 million South Sudanese children have been immunized.
The latest round of door-to-door immunizations this month is the country's 24th since polio reappeared. The organizers have learned not to leave anything to chance in their effort to reach every child. They put out a blitz of radio announcements and billboards weeks ahead of this campaign. Trucks with speakers attached rolled through almost every community to announce the dates of the campaign.
UNICEF communication for development officer Mercy Kolok says the goal was to make sure all parents felt compelled to get their children vaccinated. "Since we started the campaigns, the perception of immunization has changed and mothers are now demanding for immunization services ... We are happy that the caregivers are now able to demand, unlike before where we have to convince them to take the vaccine."
Kolok says she hopes the interest in the polio vaccine eventually translates into more mothers taking their children to health centers, where they can get all of their childhood immunizations. It worked with Jane Yangi. She did not want to wait for the volunteers to come to her house. She showed up at the Munuki Health Center where volunteers were gathering, to have her five-month-old daughter Gloria Guna vaccinated. "I have to bring her for vaccination today. It is important," she said. "It makes her safe from disease."
Delivering the vaccine takes less than
a minute, requiring just two drops in a child's mouth. Volunteers mark
the child's finger with ink and then move onto the next patient.
Volunteers make an impact - Alfred Lupai served as a team leader for two of the groups working in Juba. He said the volunteers, most of whom are teenagers, show up because they understand the impact of the work they are doing on the future of the country. "You are helping your own blood and your own brother to save people," he said. "Sometimes different tribes, but they are welcoming. The moment you reach their home, they welcome you."
If the effort is successful and no new cases emerge in South Sudan, the country will be officially polio-free in a matter of months. But the immunization campaign will not be ending. With polio present in the surrounding region, South Sudan will have to stay vigilant or risk another re-emergence.
Rotary International recognized seven members of Congress as Polio Eradication Champions on April 24, at the United States Capitol Building.
Rotary established the Polio Eradication Champion Award in 1995 to honor heads of state and others who have made a significant global contribution to ending polio. Since the 1980s, the United States government has contributed more than $2 billion to polio eradication.
Those honored include: Senator Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), Senator Richard Shelby (Alabama), Representative Steve Austria (Ohio), Representative Norm Dicks (Washington), Representative Tom Price (Georgia), Representative Denny Rehberg (Montana), and Representative Harold Rogers (Kentucky).
"Thanks to the leadership of the U.S. government, we are closing in on a historic victory over polio," said Jim Lacy, past president of Rotary International. "But the fight is not over—we need others to step up their efforts to ensure that this initiative does not fail."
Polio, a disease that affected scores of Americans during epidemics into the 1950s, has been reduced by 99% worldwide, but it still paralyzes children in parts of the world. There is no cure for polio, but for as little as 60 cents, a child can be protected against the disease for life. Mass immunization campaigns have reduced the number of polio cases from 350,000 annually in the mid-1980s, to fewer than 700 reported cases in 2011. India, once the global epicenter of the disease, was removed from the polio-endemic list in February.
Despite this success, challenges remain in the three polio-endemic countries: Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria. The initiative is also threatened by a funding gap that exceeds $1 billion for 2012-13.
Rotary made polio eradication its top priority in 1985, and in 1988 helped launch the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. As the original private sector contributor and volunteer arm of this global partnership, Rotary has contributed more than $1 billion and countless volunteer hours to the effort.
Rotary is a worldwide organization of business and professional leaders who provide humanitarian service and help to build goodwill and peace in the world. Rotary's global membership is approximately 1.2 million men
At the April 2012 Rotary District 7150 Conference, PDG Marlene Brown & Club Treasurer Earl Lewis accepted two awards from R. I. and the District: one for being the #1 Club in the District for Annual Giving donations AND the other Award for being the #1 Club in the District for Polio Eradication Campaign contributions for not only the 2010-11 Rotary year, but also for the past number of years as the District has worked to fulfill its Polio Eradication Campaign promise!. http://www.rotaryeclubny1.com