Rotary’s leadership considered vital to eradicating polio
Bruce Aylward, assistant director-general for Polio, Emergencies and Country Collaboration at the World Health Organization (WHO), delivers a polio update during the International Assembly 15 January. Rotary International/Monika Lozinska
A polio-free India is proof that Rotary is able to tackle the world’s most difficult health challenges, according to Bruce Aylward, assistant director-general for Polio, Emergencies and Country Collaboration at the World Health Organization (WHO).
Addressing the 2013 International Assembly in San Diego, California, USA, Aylward praised Rotary’s work in bringing the world to the threshold of polio eradication, but reminded the incoming district governors that it will take their leadership to complete the job.
Aylward referred to the recent killing of health workers in Pakistan and said that WHO is working to leverage its broad support in the Islamic community to provide safety for volunteers and aid workers.
“The eradication program is continuously being put back on track,” he said. “I can assure you that just as we have regrouped and restrategized before, we will continue to do so in Pakistan.”
Discussing the successes of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) — in which Rotary and WHO collaborate with UNICEF and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — Aylward cited India, which has not had a reported case of polio in two years. In February, WHO removed India from the list of polio-endemic countries, disproving the experts who had maintained that polio could not be eradicated there. And if continuing tests of polio cases recorded through 13 January continue to yield negative results, WHO will declare that India has interrupted transmission of indigenous wild poliovirus for the second consecutive year.
Polio remains endemic in only three countries: Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan. But because nonendemic countries remain at risk for cases imported from those three, immunization must continue everywhere to ensure that polio is eradicated worldwide.
Rotary’s chief responsibilities in GPEI include advocacy, an increasingly important role in this latter stage of the campaign. In addition to contributing more than US$1 billion to the initiative since 1985, Rotary has helped solicit over $9 billion in support from donor governments. Such advocacy is crucial to finishing the job, as GPEI faces a funding gap of $700 million this year.
Aylward emphasized that polio eradication is well within reach, and urged Rotarians to work together to reach that goal.
“You have been given the greatest opportunity in history to end this disease,” Aylward said. “We can only finish with Rotary's leadership.”