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updated: 3/22/2013 11:41 AM

Arlington Heights Rotarian traveled to Nigeria to end Polio

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  • Arlington Heights Rotarian and resident Wendy Davis (Right) administers the polio vaccine to a child in Nigeria.

      Arlington Heights Rotarian and resident Wendy Davis (Right) administers the polio vaccine to a child in Nigeria.
    Photo courtesy of Wendy Davis

 
Don Marquis

Arlington Heights Rotarian Wendy Davis traveled to Nigeria to eradicate polio

The "crawlers" seem to be everywhere.

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Arlington Heights Rotarian and resident Wendy Davis recently returned from Nigeria to help eradicate the crippling cycle of polio. Seeing young men and women crawling along the streets begging or washing only the bottom half of cars to earn money made the long journey worth it.

"It's a matter of knowing this will be ended," Davis said about the first drops of vaccine given to a child. "A woman walked to a church with her day old baby from who knows where," she remarked. "Just for her child to be safe."

Davis joined a team of 11 Rotary International and Nigerian Rotary volunteers to bring an end to this crippling disease, one drop at a time.

"We had a life changing experience," Davis shared. "Our lives were changed by serving others, the lives of the Nigerian children were changed for the better because they will not get polio, and the lives of the Nigerian Rotarians were changed by knowing they had the support and understanding of Rotarians from other countries."

More than 20 million health workers and volunteers around the world have been involved in efforts to end polio, making it the largest peacetime mobilization of people for any single purpose.

At the forefront of this mission are Rotary International, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, several world health organizations and governments have three countries remaining and Nigeria is on top of that list.

Nigeria, along with Afghanistan and Pakistan remain polio-endemic. Nigeria has historically been a global epicenter of transmission. Despite the recent setback on polio immunization in the northern part of the country, the initiative to eradicate polio in Nigeria has been yielding successes, particularly between 2008 and 2010 when total cases dropped from 798 to 21. In 2013, only four cases have been detected at this time.

Despite the news of polio vaccinators being gunned down in the northern states of Nigeria, Davis continued her world travels to eradicate polio as she did in India in 2012. The government of Nigeria stated it is committed to their program of vaccinating children.

"We partnered with the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta and with other national governments," Davis said. "Two years ago India came off the list of endemic countries through a concerted effort of this group of partners."

Worldwide, 222 polio cases were reported in 2012, a little more than one-third of the 650 cases reported in 2011. Overall, the annual incidence of polio has decreased more than 99 percent since the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was launched in 1988. Then polio infected about 350,000 children per year in more than 125 countries.

Davis remarked that this year they visited the WHO headquarters in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria and were happy to learn that a team of Indian health workers and administrators had come to Nigeria to share some of their methods of success in tracking down children in transient or migrant families.

"These are often children at risk," Davis said. "The number of cases in Nigeria so far this year stands at 4, which is lower than last year, and we hope it stays low."

Although the wild poliovirus is now endemic only in Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan, it could spread back to other countries.

Among Rotary's chief responsibilities in the eradication initiative is advocacy, an increasingly important element of this latter stage of the effort. In addition to contributing more than $1 billion, Rotary and other foundations has helped secure over $9 billion from donor governments since the initiative began in 1988.

Rotary is boosting its advocacy work in the 200 countries and regions where Rotary clubs exist to encourage every national government to help meet a $700 million shortfall (as of February 1) in funding the global initiative through 2013, according to Rotary International.

Even with this immense global funding, it still takes individuals like Davis to get the job done.

One drop at a time.

To join the Rotary Club of Arlington Heights or to learn more about what the club does in the community as well, log in to www.rotaryah.org for more information.

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