Pakistan is one of the two remaining countries in the world where polio, a crippling and potentially fatal infectious disease, still persists. The other country is Afghanistan. Polio mainly affects children under the age of five and can cause irreversible paralysis or death. There is no cure for polio, but it can be prevented with safe and effective vaccines.
Rotary International, a global network of volunteers who are committed to improving lives and communities, has been at the forefront of the fight against polio for more than 35 years. As a founding partner of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), Rotary has contributed more than $2.1 billion dollars and countless volunteer hours to protect nearly 3 billion children in 122 countries from this paralyzing disease.
Aziz Memon chair of Rotary’s Pakistan PolioPlus Committee exclusively speaks with Eurasia Media Network, “ In 1994 when the program started, nearly 20,000 children were paralyzed every year and now Pakistan is at a point where the virus circulation has been limited to seven districts in southern KP. The end of polio is very much in sight.”
In Pakistan, Rotary has been working closely with the government, other GPEI partners, community and religious leaders, health workers and parents to ensure that every child receives the polio vaccine. Since 1994 when Rotary began its efforts to end polio in Pakistan, the country has made major strides.
Pakistan reported only one case of wild poliovirus infection so far in 2021. The virus circulation has been limited to seven districts in the southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. The end of polio is very much in sight.
However, challenges remain. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted mass vaccination campaigns in 2020 and created gaps in immunity among children. Political change and security concerns in Afghanistan pose a risk of cross-border transmission of the virus. Low routine immunization coverage and vaccine hesitancy among some communities also hamper progress.
Aziz Memon says, “Rotary and its partners are not giving up. We have developed a new strategic plan for 2022-2026 that aims to achieve and sustain a polio-free world through a focus on implementation and accountability while using innovative methods and tools. We are also supporting efforts to resume nationwide house-to-house polio vaccinations in Afghanistan in early November, providing access to children in areas where campaigns had been banned for the last three years.”
In a recent case reported in Pakistan in 2023 first case—Aziz Memon commented, “ It is deeply unfortunate that a three-year-old child will suffer with lifelong disabilities by a disease that is entirely preventable. We are looking at all important epidemiological factors related to this child and his surroundings to trace the origins of the infection, which may help us identify missed areas or populations.”
Rotary members from around the world recently visited Pakistan to show their solidarity and support for polio eradication. They met with government leaders, health officials, community mobilizers and parents to learn about their challenges and successes. They also participated in vaccination activities and witnessed firsthand how Rotary’s funds are being used effectively on the ground.
According to Aziz Memon, “ South KP is among parts of the country that suffer most gravely from poor routine immunization, and I urge all parents and caregivers to ensure that their child is vaccinated in every campaign.”
Rotary’s commitment to ending polio is unwavering. As long as polio threatens even one child anywhere in the world, all children everywhere remain at risk. That’s why Rotary will continue to support Pakistan until we reach eradication.
” Rotary’s dream of a polio-free world has been achieved in over 99% of the world and we will do all it takes to make this dream a reality for children here too. ,” said Aziz Memon.