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After taking part in the national polio immunization activities in the cities near Awassa and Yirgalem, held in response to the recent wild polio virus attack in the Horn of Africa, a group of visiting Rotarians honored Girma Woldegiorgis, the former President of Ethiopia, with the Rotary International Polio Free Award.
President Girma was presented this esteemed award in appreciation of his efforts to eradicate Polio. During the last five years of his tenure, Ethiopia has had no new cases of polio.
Though cases of polio have rapidly declined worldwide with 99 percent polio free status today, the fight against polio isn’t over yet.
The recent outbreak of wild polio virus (WPV) type 1 is a sad indication. Six new cases of wild polio virus (WPV) were discovered in September of this year in areas bordering Somalia. Five of the six cases were found in Galadi Wereda of Doolo Zone while the other was found in neighboring Bohk Wereda, according to WHO updates.
Led by Ezra Teshome, Rotary District 5030 Governor, the group of 32 Rotarians – 26 from the United States and 6 from Canada – also visited Fistula Hospital as well as various projects they have been supporting for the last several years, including education, health and water projects.
District Governor Ezra Teshome, who for the last 18 years has been continuously leading Rotarians and friends to Ethiopia for polio national immunization activities, took his group to a door to door immunization campaign in the cities near Hawassa and Yirgalem, the capital of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region, from November 14-16. The group end its weeklong stay today with a debriefing ceremony at the National Palace, where the former president of the country is to be honored with the Rotary International ‘Polio Eradication Champion’ Award, in the presence of government officials and representatives of non-governmental organizations, among others.
On behalf of the Rotarians, Ezra will hand over the award to the former president. “We will keep coming back until the disease is gone,” declared Ezra. “We are determined to get the job done.”
“This disease knows no boundaries,” declared Past District Governor, John Adams. “We have to remember, it’s just a plane ride away.”
Cheshire Ethiopia was among the projects visited by the Rotarians on Wednesday. After seeing Cheshire’s beautiful compound in Menagesha, where treatments are provided to children, girls and adults with physical disabilities, the Rotarians were pleased with the advance of their project there. “It is so good to see one’s money being invested in appropriate projects, as a lot of donors don’t know where their money goes,” said one visiting Rotarian.
Cheshire has rehabilitation programs for children, where they stay for 4-6 months on average for physical surgery and physiotherapy, accommodation services and psychosocial support. It also has workshops that produce tailor made orthopedic shoes, WHO standard wheelchairs and tricycles, among others. It constantly provides treatment to 70 children on average, on top of other emergency services for the surrounding area.
During their stay, the Rotarians also met with the African Union and noted that polio be declared a priority. The Rotarians have had meetings with nongovernmental organizations including UNICEF and WHO, as well as with the US and Canadian embassies.
Ethiopia was a bit slow in embracing the growth of Rotary. Currently, there are only 11 Rotary clubs, charity organizations supported by voluntary contributions, in Ethiopia, seven of them in Addis Ababa. The number of Rotary clubs worldwide is 34,000 with 1.2 million members from different occupations, cultures and countries, enabling the clubs to have unique perspectives.
Last year the lowest number of new polio cases was reported – 250. In 2013 however, 334 cases are reported with 119 in polio endemic countries – Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria according to WHO update. Kenya counts 14 cases while Somalia has 180 cases. In Syria 13 cases have been encountered.
Left unsolved, the problem of polio, a crippling and potentially fatal infectious disease, would paralyze more than 10 million children under the age of five over the next four decades, worldwide.
In 1985, when Rotary started its fight against polio, 350,000 cases were reported. Since then it has raised funds to make sure children receive access to the polio vaccine