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FROM READERS: Women volunteer for polio prevention efforts in India

Thursday, March 29, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

Judy Elliott is a member of the Rotary Club of Columbia and a Missourian reader.

Two members of the Rotary Club of Columbia, Judy Elliott and Darlene Johnson, traveled to India where they had an extraordinary opportunity – thanks to Rotary International – to be part of history in one of the largest public health campaigns in the world. They immunized children against polio – a crippling disease that still paralyzes and sometimes kills children in parts of the world. The 38-member team from the USA and Canada departed on Feb. 14 for Delhi, India.

These volunteers are members of Rotary, a worldwide humanitarian service organization with the eradication of polio as its main philanthropic goal. These Rotary members joined other volunteers and health workers to administer drops of oral polio vaccine during an immunization campaign that targeted millions of children under age five.

Judy Elliott said, “Until polio is eradicated worldwide every child remains at risk. Although polio is 99 percent eliminated, the final 1 percent is the most difficult. If people, products and microbes can traverse continents within a matter of hours, then a polio threat anywhere is a polio threat everywhere.”

“We are committed to ending polio now,” Darlene Johnson said. “We have a unique opportunity to stop this disease. We will do everything we can to ensure that no child is missed.”

Fourteen of the 38 Rotary volunteers from USA and Canada remained to attend the Polio Summit 2012 in New Delhi from February 25-26. With extremely tight security, Dr. Mammohan Singh, the honorable Prime Minister of India, addressed the opening session to announce India had completed, as of Jan. 13, 2012, an entire year since the last reported polio case. The Polio Summit was organized by the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India in collaboration with Rotary International to celebrate this very important and historical milestone — the first giant leap towards the declaration of India as a polio-free country.

India was once recognized as the world’s epicenter of polio; now the country has been officially deemed to have stopped indigenous transmission of wild poliovirus (WRV). The number of polio-endemic countries, those which have never stopped indigenous WPV transmission, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), has been reduced to a historical low of three: Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. It was especially rewarding to read on the front page of the Sunday, Feb. 26, Hindustantimes the headline: “WHO knocks India off polio list.” The partnership of the Indian government, international groups WHO, UNICEF and Rotary International, along with the $355 million challenge grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, have all contributed to the success of these efforts, according to Prime Minister Singh. Eradication will be certified when there have been no cases of polio anywhere for three years after the last reported case. Even though this milestone is worthy of celebration, the national immunization days and eradication efforts must continue.

Since 1985, Rotary has contributed more than $1 billion U.S. dollars to help immunize 2.5 billion children in 122 countries. Besides raising and contributing funds, Rotary’s 1.2 million volunteers have donated their time and personal resources. Former participants in this Rotary program in India are Columbians Darcy Wells and Dr. Raymond Plue. Also included in the 2012 group were former Centralians William Reinhardt, now from Minnesota, and his son Curtis from California.

With its community-based network worldwide, Rotary is the volunteer arm of a global partnership dedicated to eradicating polio. Since the 1988 launch of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, the number of polio cases has been reduced from 350,000 annually, to fewer than 700 cases all last year.

Rotary is an organization of business and professional leaders united worldwide to provide humanitarian service and to help build goodwill and peace in the world. It is comprised of 1.2 million members working in more than 33,000 clubs in more than 200 countries and geographic regions. Rotary member initiate community projects that address many of today’s most critical issues such as violence, AIDS, hunger, the environment and clean water.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is spearheaded by the WHO, Rotary International, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UNICEF.

The public is encouraged to participate. For further information visit, rotary.org/endpolio or polioeradication.org

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