Fight against polio takes a step forward
Ambassadors Abdul Wahab, permanent observer of the OIC to the United Nations, (left) and Frederick D. Barton, U.S. representative to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, speak during a panel on polio at UNICEF headquarters in New York. Rotary Images/Alyce Henson
In a major step forward in the fight to rid the world of polio, the U.S. government and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) announced that they will be strengthening their collaboration toward eradicating the disease.
Panelists speaking at UNICEF headquarters in New York City on 2 December stressed that the battle against polio may be won or lost depending on how well all sectors of society can work together, including governmental and nongovernmental agencies, and religious organizations. In the areas where polio maintains its last strongholds, misinformation and conflict continue to impede workers’ ability to vaccinate children.
The panel was organized after U.S. President Barack Obama issued a statement in June announcing "a new global effort" with the OIC to eradicate polio.
Dr. Bruce Aylward, director of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative at the World Health Organization, said eradication is possible through some very simple methods, if the political will is there.
“The OIC is central to the global efforts” of polio eradication, agreed Ann M. Veneman, UNICEF’s executive director.
Ambassador Abdul Wahab, permanent observer of the OIC to the United Nations, said that vaccinating children against polio is consistent with teachings in the Quran to make every possible effort to take care of children. The OIC has been on the forefront of the fight to eradicate the disease in many Muslim countries.
Wahab also reported that the OIC secretary-general has helped secure funding for polio eradication and contacted the presidents of Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan to encourage them to strengthen their efforts in support of eradicating the disease. The International Islamic Fiqh Academy has issued an edict, or fatwa , about the importance of parents getting their children vaccinated against polio.
Though the disease is 99 percent eradicated, reaching children who live in areas torn apart by conflict or political upheaval has been a major hurdle.
“The toughest cases always come at the end,” said Ambassador Frederick D. Barton, U.S. representative to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. He said that addressing the challenges of ending the disease requires trust in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative partners and confidence in the solutions offered.
Barton noted that phenomenal progress has been made in the battle against polio. “[What] Rotary has done with the US$200 Million Challenge and the leadership it has shown for the past decades is remarkable,” he said.
Past RI President James L. Lacy, chair of Rotary International’s Polio Eradication Task Force for the United States, said Rotarians who remember what it was like to fear polio will do whatever it takes to end it. “We have to keep pressing ahead. And it takes every one of us to do what we can.”
The panel’s moderator, Dr. William Foege, senior fellow of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Health Program, said Rotary's work will be remembered in history, but the job needs to be finished. “They won’t thank us at all for starting it, but they will thank us for ending it,” he said.
“No one should suffer from a disease that’s completely preventable for a few pennies of vaccine,” said Lacy. Polio eradication will be “our everlasting gift to the world. It’s a promise Rotary intends to keep.”
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