Rotary International warns about complacency on World Polio Day

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To commemorate World Polio Day on 24 October, Rotary International has cautioned against any complacency in efforts towards keeping India free from virus spread. India recorded its last polio case in January 2011 and was officially removed from the list of polio-endemic nations a year later. In the South-east Asia region, India is midway to being certified a polio-free region in 2014, contingent upon the fact that no polio cases are reported till 2014. Deepak Kapur, chair of Rotary International’s India National PolioPlus Committee (INPPC), said, “Rotary urged its volunteers to remain up to the mark and continue the campaign against polio since the threat of a rebound still exists due to the risk of virus importation. Multiple challenges still prevail and the threat of spread could be accentuated by complacency, cross-border importation, diminishing funds and the misperception that the polio threat has ceased.”

Considering that India has officially eradicated polio, donor and campaign fatigue are natural outcomes that may induce a sense of complacency in activists and officials. But any attempt to drop or dilute preventive measures and safeguards due to financial constraints or other challenges could allow the virus to rebound by ‘importation’ through an endemic nation. Given this danger, the national immunization campaigns need to be sustained until global eradication is a reality. That is the best way to safeguard the wellbeing of susceptible children against the crippling effects of polio. A US$700-million funding gap threatens to undermine all of the progress achieved against the disease in last two and half decades since 1988. In response to the crisis, Rotary recently announced a funding commitment of $75 million for polio eradication over the next three years during a special United Nations General Assembly session on polio. To date, Rotary members have contributed nearly $1.2 billion to the effort.

Also on this World Polio Day, Rotary International invites one and all to get online and participate in the World’s Biggest Commercial, promoting the global effort to eradicate this crippling childhood disease. The innovative, interactive campaign gives everyone a chance to join Bill Gates, Amitabh Bachchan, A. R. Rahman, Jackie Chan, and other world figures and celebrities already participating in Rotary’s “This Close” campaign in raising awareness and support for polio eradication. Participants can upload photos of themselves to Rotary’s polio eradication website, endpolionow.org, to be edited into the constantly expanding promotional spot. Participants will receive an email with a direct link to their image and comment within the commercial.

Coinciding with World Polio Day, Rotary is ramping up its advocacy work in the 200 countries and regions where Rotary clubs exist to encourage every national government to commit to the funding levels needed to close the gap. The irony is that despite the funding gap, there has never been a more opportune time to finish off polio, with new cases at an all-time low and the wild poliovirus now confined to only a few pockets in Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan. Public health experts say that if the eradication effort stalls now, polio could rebound quickly, potentially paralyzing 250,000 children a year.

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