Rotarians fight polio in India

A group of Rotarians recently returned from a volunteer trip to India where they helped administer the oral polio vaccine to thousands of children.

Timothy Adam, Meylys Ramirez, Russell Hollebon, Patricia Steward and Peter Schmid joined other Rotarians from around the world to lend their support to the fight against polio.

The volunteers worked to assist Indian health officials during the country’s annual National Immunisation Day and throughout two follow-up days in the city of Chandigarh.

‘Over three days our group of 43 personally immunised a combined total of around 1,900 children,’ wrote Mr. Adam, a member of the Rotary Club of Grand Cayman, in an email that was circulated amongst Rotarians.

‘Although our impact was small, we felt like we did make a difference,’ said Ms Ramirez, a member of the Rotaract Club of Grand Cayman.

She explained that the Rotarian presence aided greatly in generating international awareness and support.

‘Nothing compares to having folks like us come in from other countries where polio is not endemic, come alongside them and help them,’ agreed Mr. Adam.

‘It is tremendous encouragement.’

In addition to offering their encouragement, the group of volunteers helped administer the oral vaccines, record and mark children who had been immunised and help regulate the temperature of vaccine vials to prevent spoilage.

‘Also, because we are foreigners, people come out to see us and they bring their kids out to be immunised,’ explained Ms Steward, a member of the Rotary Club of Grand Cayman Sunrise.

‘One of the workers in my group said that they had exceeded by almost double the amount of children they expected to be immunised … because the kids all want to come out and see us – we are a novelty.’

Years of mass immunisations and of hard work by Indian health officials and international organisations, like Rotary International, have significantly reduced the number of polio cases in the country.

‘The good thing is that there were very few instances of people we saw with paralysis and the disfigurement that results from that paralysis,’ Mr. Adam said.

According to Ms Steward, there were fewer than 1,000 new cases of polio in India last year.

‘We hope to pretty soon be able to claim a part in making a world where no child is subjected to that ever again,’ said Mr. Adam.

Though polio has already been eradicated in most countries throughout the world, the disease is still endemic to several countries.

‘Polio no longer threatens the Western world,’ said Elizabeth Dwyer, senior media relations specialist for Latin America, Rotary International, ‘but the wild virus persists in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria, which threatens to spread to other developing nations unless we continue eradication efforts.’

Already, Rotary International has agreed to raise $200 million to match a challenge grant of $335 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The donations will support polio eradication initiatives in countries where the disease remains endemic or are at high-risk.

‘With the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Rotary International is on the brink of eliminating this disease from the face of the earth,’ Ms Dwyer said.