Annan praises Rotary’s leadership in global polio effort

Dec. 2006 - In a farewell address on 11 December, outgoing United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan cited Rotary International as an example of a private organization or nonstate actor whose partnership with public agencies helps achieve major social goals.

Speaking at the Truman Presidential Museum and Library in Independence, Missouri, USA, Annan said the “wonderful partnership between the UN family, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control [and Prevention] and, crucially, Rotary International” is close to eradicating polio worldwide.

The UN secretary general explained that he has been guided during his 10-year tenure by the principle that nonstate actors can help the organization accomplish its aims. According to Annan, a result of that principle is the Global Compact he made with international business leaders in 1999 to harness private-sector goodwill to meet the challenges of globalization.
It’s impossible for governments alone, especially in the face of limited public resources, to solve all humanity’s ills, the UN chief noted. Instead, much more can be achieved through public-private partnerships and initiatives, he said.

Annan, who steps down on 31 December, chose the venue of his farewell speech to signal the need for the international community to return to the ideals that inspired world leaders, including U.S. President Harry Truman, and humanitarian organizations to establish the UN after the horrors of two world wars.

More than 40 Rotarians served as advisers, consultants, and delegates at the UN charter conference in 1945. Rotary and the UN have enjoyed a close relationship ever since, with Rotary currently represented at the UN by 23 Rotarians. Rotary also has high-level nongovernmental organization consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council, which oversees many specialized UN agencies. In addition, Rotary has its own day at the UN, marked by panel discussions to pinpoint new opportunities for the two organizations to work together.

Cordial relationships among Rotary and UN leaders help strengthen the ties between the organizations. Annan, in particular, has openly expressed his admiration for Rotary’s educational and humanitarian initiatives.

On 4 November, for example, the UN chief acknowledged Rotary’s invaluable partnership to hundreds of Rotarians gathered at UN headquarters in New York to celebrate Rotary-UN Day.
He said in a written statement, “Rotary is living proof that people with diverse backgrounds can learn to get along with each other and concentrate more on the things we have in common, rather than on the things that drive us apart.”

India Steps Up Efforts to End Polio

Despite the stiff challenge posed to India’s polio eradication efforts by a 2006 outbreak, the country’s health minister, Anbumani Ramadoss, is optimistic that India will soon be free of the disease.

Because of the outbreak, India reported more than 600 cases of polio in 2006, a sharp increase from only 66 cases in 2005. Most of the new cases occurred in Uttar Pradesh, an impoverished northern state. From there, the virus spread to Angola, Bangladesh, Namibia, and Nepal.

In mid-December, Ramadoss said he was confident the battle for a polio-free India would be won with stepped-up immunizations. “In three years, we will do away with polio,” he said. “We are at the end of the problem and will hit the final nail in the coffin.”

Julie Gerberding, head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the outbreak “is a warning that we can’t be complacent.” She also noted that the last few cases of polio are often the most difficult to deal with.

India is countering the challenges of polio eradication through intensified immunizations with monovalent oral polio vaccine. Because most of the cases reported in 2006 were from poor Muslim communities, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative is working with religious leaders to persuade more families to have their children immunized.

Partly because of the Muslim clerics’ support, India reported an overall increase in the turnout of children during Subnational Immunization Days (SNIDs) in July, September, and November.

Indian Rotarians and their international counterparts are closely involved with the heightened immunizations. Robert Hall, past governor of District 6900 (Georgia, USA), led several U.S. Rotarians in the November SNIDs in Uttar Pradesh. The team was encouraged by the collaboration they witnessed among government officials, religious leaders, local Rotarians, UNICEF, and the World Health Organization.

“This trip was the experience of a lifetime for all 20 Rotarians who visited Uttar Pradesh,” Hall noted. Pledging the continued support of District 6900 and Rotarians in Zone 34, which includes the Caribbean, Guyana, and Suriname, along with Florida and Georgia, USA, he said he was confident that India would soon eradicate polio.

Major Donors Jim and Donna Philips, whose recent contribution to PolioPlus Partners helped fund the SNIDs, also traveled with the group.

At least nine rounds of National Immunization Days and SNIDs are planned for India this year.

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