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Rotary celebrates India’s first polio-free year

Rotary members in Great Britain and Ireland and across the world are cautiously celebrating a major milestone in the global effort to eradicate the crippling disease polio. India, until recently an epicentre of the wild poliovirus, has completed a full calendar year without recording a new case since January 13th 2011. The last reported case was a two-year-old girl in West Bengal.

Vaccine bottles
Until tests come back from surveillance teams, it will not be confirmed that India is officially clear of polio for the past year. It will be a further two years of successful tests before the country is declared polio free.

This milestone is seen as a testament to the determination of Rotary members in Great Britain and Ireland and the rest of the world, especially the 116,000-plus Rotarians of India, to eradicate the infectious disease through the mass immunisation of children, a goal Rotary took on 27 years ago.


Hear RI President Kalyan Banerjee talk about the importance of Rotary's polio eradication campaign

Rotary launched its polio eradication programme in 1985 and, in 1988, became a spearheading partner in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, with the World Health Organisation, UNICEF, and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Since then, new cases of polio have plummeted by more than 99 percent, from more than 350,000 cases a year to only 604 reported so far for 2011.

RIBI President Ray Burman is immensely proud of the polio eradication effort by Rotary: “Every Rotarian, everywhere supports this incredible End Polio Now campaign. We raise funds through our own campiagn, Thanks for Life, and we support Rotarians in India and other endemic countries. Rotary members in India have worked diligently month after month, year after year, to help organise and carry out the National Immunisation Days that reach millions of children with the oral polio vaccine, saving millions of young lives from this terrible disease.

“This milestone is potentially the beginning of the end of polio in India but we must not be complacent. The disease can flare up suddenly so the vaccination programme must continue to make sure that no more children are struck by this curse.

“Marching ahead, the goal now is to sustain this momentum. There are Rotarians from this country who are going out to Delhi to help with the National Immunisation Day next month. Their efforts will save the lives of millions as they give the vaccine and then reach out to remote communities, protecting children."

Rotary International President Kalyan Banerjee, of Vapi, India, is also welcoming the news: “With the support of their Rotary brothers and sisters around the world, Indian Rotarians have worked diligently month after month, year after year, to help organise and carry out the National Immunisation Days that reach millions of children with the oral polio vaccine. As an Indian, I am immensely proud of what Rotary has accomplished. However, we know this is not the end of our work. Rotary and our partners must continue to immunise children in India and in other countries until the goal of a polio-free world is finally achieved.”

If all ongoing testing for polio cases through January 13th continues to yield negative results, India will be declared by the World Health Organisation to have interrupted transmission of indigenous wild poliovirus, laying the groundwork for its removal from the polio-endemic countries list, shared with Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria.

However, other countries remain at risk for cases imported from the endemic countries, which is why immunisations in India and other endemic and at-risk countries will continue.

If you would like to know more about Rotary, Thanks for Life or End Polio Now, contact your local Rotary club and discover how you can make a world of a difference.


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