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Rotarians from Canada and the US made their way to Adama on Friday November 7, to take part in a polio vaccination campaign.
The 35 Rotarians led by Past District Governor Ezra Teshome participated in the campaign that was organized by the Adama Town Health Bureau and was held at the Kidane Meheret Kindergarten and Elementary School.
The event was attended by Dr. Kebede Worku, State Minister of Health, Tesfaye Gelan, Family Health Team Coordinator at Adama Town Health Bureau and Deriba Degefa, Head of the Adama Town Health Bureau.
During their week-long stay that ended today Sunday November 9, the Rotarians had the opportunity to visit different projects such as Cheshire Services, an independent non-profit organization that provides orthopedic and social rehabilitation services for children and young people with disabilities, as well as the acclaimed Hamlin Fistula Hospital.
“My father was a victim of polio and the mission of Rotary International became very personal to me. I became very committed to the cause of Rotary and the amazing work that we can do,” Carol Tichelman, Rotarian from Canada said. She stated that the mission of Rotary International became very meaningful to her as her father was a victim of polio.
“This trip has been amazing, it has been wonderful because you get connected every year with some of the team members that come every year and of course you make new friends as well from all over the world that take part in these missions,” she added.
Another Rotarian who was part of this trip was Dave Weaver. He is from the US and said that this was his 22nd trip to Ethiopia.
“Things are getting better with each trip; it is amazing to look at the infrastructure progress in the country. I think we are also doing a better job in some of our projects, especially the water wells. We are coordinating better not only within Rotary but also with other international organizations,” he said. He also stated that each trip, especially this year’s, is exciting as there was no doubt that there will be success in eradicating polio.
Rotary has provided funding for a project that helps to build a therapy facility at Cheshire. The facility has several pieces of equipment to help children with polio or people with disabilities to rehabilitate. Most of the funding for the facility that is being built at a cost of around USD 100,000 came from Rotary.
“I am very happy and proud of this project as it offers much needed rehabilitation support for those affected by polio or other disability,” said Denny Wilford, Rotary member and the lead for the project.
On Wednesday November 5, the World Health Organization held a briefing for the Rotarians updating them on the fight to end polio in Africa and specifically Ethiopia.
According to Fiona Braka, Immunization Team leader at WHO, until every child is protected, until polio is eradicated, there is not one single child that is free. “We have seen that evidence, a child in Pakistan can cause polio in America or in Africa. So, until the whole world is free of polio, none of us will be free of it,” she said.
Braka stated that there is very good cross border collaboration with neighboring countries. “With Somalia, we are working really well to fight the disease, even though South Central Somalia is inaccessible because of security reasons, we are working well in the rest of Somalia,” she said.
She also stated that WHO holds several cross border meetings both at a higher level but also with teams that are across the border to check on surveillance.
“We have done a lot, the progress is tremendous, but we have also missed our target. We are very close, only the last step left but it is also one of the most difficult. I think it is important to give the message that gives hope we are almost there but at the same time the last step is also difficult,” Braka said.
The polio eradication initiative in Ethiopia began in 1988 but despite significant progress in eradicating it, wild poliovirus (WPV) continues to infect people. Data shows that to date, 223 cases of WPV1 have been confirmed in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia.
Ethiopia was polio-free since 2008. However, in June 2013, after almost 5 years of Polio free status, the World Health Organization confirmed a case of wild polio virus in the South Central Somalia Region. Despite an aggressive outbreak response, the virus spread quickly and 10 cases of polio were confirmed, which has been a big setback for the country.
While polio remains endemic in only three countries, it continuously puts children in other countries at risk, especially those that do not perform routine immunization. According to studies, the virus can travel and outbreaks in Syria, Iraq, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and Somalia can be traced to Pakistan and Nigeria.
UNICEF states that the annual number of polio cases has fallen from 350,000 in 1988, to 416 in 2013. All but three countries where polio was firmly entrenched, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan, have eliminated the virus within their borders and multiple outbreaks have been contained over the past 26 years.
Rotary provides grant funding to polio eradication initiative partners UNICEF and the World Health Organization, which work with the governments and Rotary club members of polio-affected countries to plan and carry out immunization activities.
Rotary International which has so far contributed USD 1.3 billion for the worldwide polio eradication efforts announced this month a grant of USD 2 million to combat the recent outbreak in Ethiopia.