Twenty-five local Rotary Club volunteers will embark on a 10-day trip to Kano, Nigeria to participate in West Africa’s National Immunization Day from Nov. 8 to 18.
The local group, along with hundreds of other volunteers, will participate in their goal to immunize every child 5-years-old and younger, for a total of over 80 million children.
Bruce Howard, a local Rotary Club team leader for the Nigeria trip, will partake in the efforts to eradicate polio in Nigeria, as part of an overall Rotary Club effort to eliminate polio worldwide.
“Nigeria is the most polio- endemic place on the planet,” Howard said. “Nigeria is where the problem is.”
National Immunization Day occurs throughout the year in numerous Third World countries that lack the means to immunize their children.
“In the late 80s, there were 350,000 new cases of polio,” Howard said. “This year we are at a ground 1,200 cases of polio worldwide. It’s almost licked.”
Volunteers like Howard travel throughout India, Africa, Indonesia and the Philippines in order to immunize as many children as possible.
Howard said the population is so poor in these Third World countries that once they are infected with polio, they have no means to treat the symptoms of the disease.
“The immunization cost 60 cents, so we are going into areas where parents can’t afford 60 cents to save their kids’ lives,” Howard said. “If you have polio in these countries, you are discarded. You are garbage.”
Children must be immunized eight to 10 times in order for it to be effective, Howard said. This is because Rotary Club volunteers cannot provide vaccinations, due to lack of equipment and medical assistance, along with the high risk of AIDS, and the fact that oral immunization is not as efficient.
Volunteers spend their time going door to door in each village or community in order to treat every child. Additional efforts have also been made for those who are immobilized by the disease.
“In India, we also brought in wheelchairs and participated in reconstructive surgeries,” Howard said. “Our wheelchairs were made out of patio furniture.”
Members of Rotary Clubs across the country participate in different immunization days throughout the world.
Steve Lombardi, a member of the San Luis Obispo de Tolosa Rotary Club, said that the wonderful thing about the Rotary’s effort against polio is that is gives average community members the opportunity to help others and experience the culture of a Third World country.
“I think any time you go to a Third World country it’s an incredible eye opener,” Lombardi said. “I thought I was going over there to work, but we were really representatives from the U.S. which underscored how important the role that polio internationally has taken and how important polio immunization is.”
Rotary Club members plan to continue their efforts against the polio epidemic and eventually eliminate the problem completely, Howard said.
“We are going to eliminate polio. If we can do this, and we can, then what can we do next? We think poverty,” Howard said. “But the world needs our hands and our hearts.”