By Bob Scott, chair of Rotary’s International PolioPlus Committee
Polio was recently confirmed in Syria, a country that has been free of this disabling and potentially fatal disease since 1999. In response, health authorities in Syria and neighboring countries have launched urgent, large-scale, multi-country immunization campaigns to ensure that every child is reached with the polio vaccine.
Rotary and its partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative are working together with local health authorities to activate the outbreak response.
In the wake of World Polio Day, these and other recent polio cases in previously polio-free countries serve as a stark reminder that as long as polio still exists, unimmunized children everywhere remain at risk.
Rotary members, as leaders from all continents, cultures and occupations, have been active throughout the region to raise awareness and build support in the fight to end polio:
In coordination with the Egyptian Ministry of Health, Rotary clubs in Egypt will support and help raise awareness of the national immunization activities in November.
In September, district and national Rotary PolioPlus committees in Jordan visited the Minister of Health to offer support for the nationwide measles, rubella and polio vaccination campaign scheduled this week.
Rotary members secured funds for updated equipment needed to vaccinate more children, and are raising public awareness to encourage families to immunize their children by posting large ‘End Polio Now’ signs in Arabic on major streets in Amman.
Rotary Clubs have joined with the Lebanese Ministry of Health, WHO and UNICEF to help vaccinate children, particularly those from displaced families below the age of five. Rotary members will help raise awareness in their communities and provide volunteer support during national immunization campaigns scheduled for early November and December.
Rotary members are establishing a coordinating committee in Turkey and approaching the Ministry of Health to offer their support.
Rotary members in Bulgaria are working with the Red Cross to lead a campaign to collect food, baby food and diapers for Syrian refugees. On World Polio Day, Rotary members and Rotaractors handed out “End Polio Now” flyers printed in the local language to help raise awareness.
We know that if polio remains endemic, outbreaks will continue to occur, and that’s why the progress being made in the three remaining polio-endemic countries (Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria) is encouraging. Polio cases in the endemic countries are down by 40 percent compared to the same time last year.
We, as Rotarians, remain steadfast in our commitment to a polio-free world, and we will continue our efforts until polio is gone forever.