The recent killings of more than 25 volunteers giving polio vaccinations in Nigeria and Pakistan will not deter Rotary International’s mission to eradicate the disease from the Earth.
That’s the word from Lee Dyer of Evans City, governor of Pennsylvania Rotary District 7280 serving the northwestern part of the state.
Nine women giving polio immunization in northern Nigeria were shot dead by men on motorbikes this month, and a total of 16 immunization workers were shot in Pakistan in two incidents, one in December and one on New Year’s Day.
Two more workers and a policeman guarding them were shot in another incident in Pakistan earlier this month.
No organization claims responsibility for the killings, according to Reuters news service, but it is suspected that an Islamic group that opposes the influx of Western medicine into the Mideast is behind the attacks.
Asked if the loss of life would cause Rotary to consider suspending the program, Dyer is emphatic.
“Absolutely, positively not,” he said. “Rotary is fully committed to eradicating this disease from the world, and we will continue all efforts necessary to make that happen.”
Dyer said since Rotary began its quest to rid the world of polio in 1985, some Third World countries have put conflicts on hold so children could get the vaccine.
“Those countries realized their country without polio would be better than with it,” Dyer said.
Dyer, who strongly condemned the recent killings, said, “Negotiations are going on right now to help people understand in those countries that we’re trying to make the children safe.”
He said world health experts estimate that 5 million children have not contracted polio because of Rotary’s intervention, and that no new cases of polio have been reported worldwide since December.
Dyer went on to say that Butler County Rotary clubs historically have been generous in helping Rotary’s polio mission by giving hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past 28 years.
“Each year, Butler County gives a minimum of $25,000,” Dyer said.
Regina Greenwald, president of the Slippery Rock Rotary Club, said a handful of her club members have traveled to help inoculate children in the countries where the recent killings occurred.
“They were very distressed because this is something that is critical to children’s health and to the health of our globe,” Greenwald said. “They are very upset about it.”
She confirmed Dyer’s assertion that Rotary is determined to forge ahead with polio eradication.
“We understand that it is going to take time and courage for those people to continue to go into those countries, but we’re not giving up,” Greenwald said, “In Slippery Rock, we’re still raising money to add to the funds for polio eradication.”
Rotary International PolioPlus Committee Chair Robert Scott recently released a statement on the Pakistan killings in which he condemns the attacks.
Scott said the government of Pakistan has decided to temporarily suspend the vaccination campaign due to concerns over the safety of the health workers. Scott said he spoke for all 1.2 million Rotarians worldwide in extending Rotary’s deepest sympathy to the families of the victims.
“Their dedication and sacrifice further inspire us to continue moving forward toward our goal of a polio-free world.”