Rotarian Honored at Global Health Summit for Polio Work

For the past nine years, Seattle Rotarian Ezra Teshome has led volunteer teams back to his native Ethiopia to help immunize its children against the crippling disease polio.

His most recent trip was in late October, when he and his 35-member team participated in a national immunization campaign that reached 16 million children under age five. How fitting that his first stop upon returning to the United States was New York City, where he was honored as one of 10 "global health heroes" at the Time Global Health Summit, an international conference of public health experts and policy setters convened by Time magazine to address the most pressing health issues facing the world today.

The agenda included sessions on infectious diseases such as polio, HIV/AIDS, and influenza; malaria; infant mortality; the worldwide water shortage; and access barriers to health care and affordable medicines.
"Contrary to what many in the United States believe, polio is not a conquered disease," said actress Glenn Close, who introduced Teshome and the other award recipients.

"Ezra's work in the U.S. and Ethiopia is fighting the disease and raising awareness, both valuable contributions to the cause, " noted Close, whose father was a surgeon in the Belgian Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) for 16 years. Teshome, a member of the Rotary Club of University District of Seattle, was modest in accepting the award "on behalf of the Ethiopian children, on behalf of the many medical workers, and on behalf of the millions of Rotarians who have worked so hard to (help) Ethiopian children and children throughout the world."

He described how members of his teams, many visiting Africa for the first time, return home with a new perspective on the world and an enhanced commitment to volunteer service. "We go to the villages and walk door-to-door and see firsthand what poverty does to people," he told the audience, which included his wife, Yobi; daughter, Sophia, a student at Howard University in Washington, D.C.; and Frank J. Devlyn, chair of The Rotary Foundation Trustees. Back at home in Seattle, Teshome reiterated that he accepted the honor "on behalf of so many Rotarians who have given up their time and treasure to eradicate polio."

Rotary's PolioPlus program and the organization's success as a spearheading partner in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative also garnered praise from two high-profile speakers at the summit. In a press conference, Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates said, "Rotary, in particular, has been a leader" in supporting the polio eradication initiative. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has contributed millions for polio eradiation, most recently US$25 million for immunization efforts throughout the Horn of Africa.

Later in the summit, Jeffrey Sachs, director of the United Nations Millennium Project to reduce poverty, hunger, and disease by 2015, lauded Rotary when he spoke of the need to apply a goal-driven, systematic approach to global health. "Now, it's being done small scale in many places for many things, and it's being done large scale for some specifics, such as Rotary taking on polio and leading the way and doing something practical: a timetable, achievement, delivery."

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