Rotarians from US and Canada visit projects in Ethiopia, celebrate Ethiopia’s free polio status

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Rotarians showing the Zero sign to indicate Ethiopia’s polio free status

To celebrate Ethiopia’s polio free status as well as visit different projects that has been supported by Rotary and partners, 33 Rotarians from the US and Canada visited the country.

The Rotarians, divided into different groups and accompanied by members of nine local Rotary group representatives from; Rotary Club of Addis Ababa, Sheger, Bole, Arada, East, West, Entoto and Finot, visited different project sites that focused on health, education and water in Debre Birhan and other locations in the country.

The Rotarians visited the Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia, a dedicated center to treat and prevent childbirth injuries called obstetric fistulas. The center was founded by Dr. Reg Hamlin and Dr Catherine Hamlin in 1974.

The guests also visited the Cheshire Services, an independent non-profit organization which provides orthopedic and social rehabilitation services for children and young people with disabilities in Ethiopia.

Besides visiting the different project sites, the visit of the Rotarians also brought with it new projects to be implemented. Initiated by Rotarian Gabor Gasztonyi, a new project supported by a grant from the Canadian Government focusing on providing training for mothers who have children with disabilities is one such example. This training program is expected to run for two years at the Cheshire Services and another similar facility in Hawassa.

For most of the visiting Rotarian group, this is not their first trip but their 3rd or 13th time. Led by Past District Governor Ezra Teshome who has been coming to Ethiopia for the past 20 years the group has knitted fond relations with Ethiopia.

PDG Ezra who works tirelessly to eradicate polio and help create better future to all, was named Global Health Hero by Times a few years ago. Recently he was also recognized and honored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center in its Inspiring People & Projects exhibit, ‘sharing his story as an example of hope and positive change.

The Rotarians also got the chance to do site visiting in Lalibela and they concluded their trip with a farewell dinner organized by the National Polio Plus Committee at Yod Abyssinia. The State Minister of Health Dr. Kebede Worku as well as representatives of partner agencies and organizations in the fight against polio were invited  to the farewell dinner, where the Rotarians were thanked and acknowledged for their active and long term dedicated service in the Ethiopian Polio Eradication Initiative.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative was launched in 1988 after the World Health Assembly resolved to eradicate poliomyelitis globally and has since made staggering progress towards reaching the eradication target.

As a result, polio cases globally decreased by 99.9 per cent from an estimated 350,000 cases in 1988, to just twelve today. Furthermore, the number of countries with polio endemic decreased from 125 to only three countries – Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. Because there are still the three countries where polio still exists, unless they eradicate it as well, any country in the world remains at risk for polio importation; and Ethiopia even more so, due to its geographic location.

Ethiopia joined the polio eradication initiative in 1996 following the Declaration on Polio Eradication in Africa the same year. Since then, Ethiopia has accelerated implementation of polio eradication strategies through; routine immunization, supplemental immunization activities, acute flaccid paralysis surveillance and mop-up activities in areas with high risk of polio importation and undetected circulation.

The country has been free of Polio for almost four years, since the last polio case was reported in January 2014.