Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
I, along with Class 19 of Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, visited the Rotary Centre in Bangkok, Thailand, on 13 June 2015 as part of a Rotary Orientation. During the briefing by Past Rotary International Director Noraseth Pathmanand, we learned that only three countries are yet not declared polio free. While 80% of the world’s population now live in polio-free areas, the transmission of the polio virus is ongoing in only three endemic countries – Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan.
Polio incidences have dropped more than 99% since the launch of global polio eradication efforts in 1988. A window of opportunity to eradicate this crippling and sometimes deadly disease now seems to be in the realm of possibility as only 27 cases have been reported in 2015: 24 from Pakistan and 3 from Afghanistan. There has been no case in Nigeria so far this year. It is a great success as there were 99 cases in Pakistan alone during 2014. The specter of the disease is fading rapidly because of the fact that Rotary International, which has already vaccinated 2 billion children in 122 countries, is hitting back hard in Pakistan in collaboration with other partners. This is indisputably good news.
A recent push by the Pakistani military to flush the Taliban from its safe havens has broken the vaccination blockade, and already 350,000 children have received at least one dose of the polio vaccine. The Government of Pakistan has also shown its resolve and has tasked the military to provide protection to the vaccinators in areas where there is a high risk. In addition, Rotary International has also worked hard to win the support of people in favour of the anti polio campaign. In this regard, parliamentarians, popular sportsmen, religious clergy and well know public figures were involved in sensitizing the mass in support of polio vaccination. Moreover, public awareness events including polio walks, field hockey tournaments, and a “Kick Polio out of Pakistan” football tournament were organized. With this vigorous protective push against polio continuing under the auspices of Rotary International, it is possible to find and snuff out the last scrap of the virus from Pakistan, which will be a seminal step towards seeing polio disappear from the globe. This has happened once before in medical history with the efforts to eradicate smallpox. And for polio, this historic moment is tantalizingly close to happening.
While closing the shackles around the polio virus seems imminent and in the realm of possibility, sustaining a polio free Pakistan could be rather difficult. While efforts for winning support of people are currently successful, these may be temporary in nature. Hence possibility of the polio virus resurfacing will keep looming large. There is, therefore, a need to enhance education in Pakistan for developing a sense of self realization among the masses against menaces like polio.
The literacy rate in Pakistan is just 65%, which is far below the target of 85% set by UN in 2000 at Dakar under the EFA program. With this literacy rate, Pakistan falls among the countries placed in “Low EDI (EFA Development Index)”. Although Pakistan made significant progress in closing the gender gap from 68 girls enrolled for 100 boys in 2000 to 87 by 2012, yet it has not reached any of the EFA goals with measurable targets. While the UN is placing an extra $22 billion a year in order to achieve the new global level education targets being set for the year 2030, Rotary International’s focus on Pakistan could enable it to catch up to the rest of the world by developing similar endeavours for education as was done for the eradication of polio. There is simply no more powerful or long lasting investment in human rights and dignity, in social inclusion and sustainable development. The children saved from polio need to be educated as well. Accordingly Rotary International should grant top priority to education now in Pakistan. Timely help from Rotary International for the enhancement of education and increasing the literacy rate will not only enable Pakistan to make great strides to reach its education related goals, but increased education will also help in preventing resurfacing of the polio virus.
Umar Hayat, Pakistan
Rotary Peace Fellow
June 2015 Session