An unforgettable experience

As I visited clubs as District 1710 Governor, I noticed a certain weariness and disengagement among members about polio eradication. Some couldn't understand why we were still fighting the disease. The idea was born to organize a trip for a Rotary delegation to immunize children against polio and to mobilize club members to provide ongoing financial support.

Our goal was to create an event directly linked to immunization in a country still affected by the poliovirus, Pakistan. Michel Zaffran, End Polio Now Coordinator for France, contacted WHO officials in the field to plan our mission.

The project was announced during my club visits, but we had to limit the number of participants due to local security concerns. We were informed that we would have to be accompanied by armed security every day during our travels. We received 40 applications, but could only select 19 to balance club participation and give preference to PolioPlus Society members. Nineteen Rotarians from the clubs of Bourg en Bresse Brou, Mâcon, Lyon Sud, Lyon Confluence, Châtillon-Vonnas, Belleville en Beaujolais, Lyon Mont du Lyonnais, Léognan, Lyon Est, Lyon Caluire, Montbrison, Oyonnax, Lyon Parc, and Lyon les Monts d'Or got ready for this adventure.

The French Rotary team in Pakistan

We organized the trip in collaboration with local Rotary clubs and WHO representatives, with the priority of being with the teams of vaccinators at different vaccination sites. Each participant was responsible for his or her own expenses, and the Lyon Region district paid for the rental of three vans for the week.

On the first day, we joined a WHO team at the main train station for a training session on the vaccination technique: two drops of vaccine in the mouth and marking the left little finger with an indelible violet ink marker. A typical day began each morning with three groups of 6 or 7 people leaving in minibuses, accompanied by an armed military escort. I must say, however, that we felt safe and found a population rather curious about our presence. We joined the WHO vaccinators who then accompanied us to the various vaccination sites (door-to-door, hospitals, clinics, vaccination centers, schools, buses, nomad and refugee camps, shantytowns, etc.). For door-to-door vaccination, the local vaccinators first checked if there were any children to be vaccinated and if we had permission to enter.

Two drops of the vaccine are enough.

Families welcomed us wholeheartedly in their homes and nomad camps, but the vaccinations on the buses were met with more suspicion. The most striking thing was the number of children not attending school and the great difficulty in accessing drinking water, but also the very warm welcome and smiles of the children in the nomad camps.

Tests conducted at 12 wastewater treatment plants in Karachi indicate that several are infected with poliovirus. This means the virus is still circulating. If immunization is stopped, there will be a massive increase in new polio cases. Regular campaigns (every 2 months) are therefore essential to prevent an explosion in the number of cases in Pakistan. The health centers also vaccinate against other diseases, and children receive vitamin A at the same time as the two polio drops.

One thing is certain: the 19 participants were united in their desire to carry out another humanitarian mission. Rotary's motto, "Service Above Self," has truly taken on its full meaning, and polio eradication is regaining the important place it deserves in our clubs.

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Bob Taylor, End Polio Now Coordinator and Member of Alma Nebraska Rotary Club | May. 13, 2024