Fanwood/Scotch Plains Rotarian Helps Eradicate Polio in Pakistan
Thursday, August 2, 2012 • 9:28pm
FANWOOD/SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ – At the Wednesday meeting of the Fanwood/Scotch Plains Rotary, new District Governor Dwight Leeper gave an account of his trip to Pakistan as part of the “Eradicate Polo” program sponsored by Rotary.
“For many years polio was a major health issue all over the world,” said Leeper. “For the past 25 years Rotary has been raising money and awareness regarding polio and now we are very close to the dream of finally eradicating polio.”
Leeper went to Pakistan as part of a Group Study Exchange from North America through Rotary. “When you travel to these places things finally take on three dimensions. There was a lot of danger from shootings, to bombings to various diseases. Pakistan is soon to be the fourth largest nation in the world, and they have all of the problems that go along with rapid growth and limited infrastructure.”
As part of the slide show that went with his presentation, Leeper showed pictures of hotels and public building that looked like bunkers. “There are concrete barriers everywhere, cars are constantly being checked for bombs and two people involved in vaccinating for polio were killed in a drive by shooting. It is rumored that the Taliban suspect a polio doctor as the one who took DNA to the authorities and was instrumental in the deal of Bin Laden and they use this as proof that the West cannot be trusted and use it as one of the reasons for not getting the children vaccinated.”
Leeper went on to describe the incredible levels of poverty. “It is the filthiest country I’ve ever been in and they don’t seem to make the connection between sanitation, good water and the prevention of disease.”
While the group was there to represent Rotary in North America and to assist specifically with polio vaccinations, Leeper was quick to point out the “constellations of major issues” that exist in Pakistan and how this plethora of problems sometimes makes it hard to know which one to focus on first. For example, Pakistan is one of the fastest growing countries in the world, but they have one of the highest mortality rates for mothers and babies.
“Eighty percent of the population is illiterate, which makes it very difficult to communicate what needs to happen to bring about change. The Taliban and other religious leaders bent on keeping power are actively working against polio vaccinations, telling people that it will make their children infertile and basically inferring that it is somehow ‘un-islamic’”, said Leeper.
The unrest in the whole region causes people to migrate from Afghanistan and India, down into Pakistan and back again, thus making something like polio even harder to control. “Polio can stay alive more than 100 hours outside a host, making it extremely infectious. One of the tactics that they use is to inoculate from toll booths on major highways.”
Leeper and his group went out with health workers to the slums to actively participate in the process of inoculating children. The children are marked and so are the walls of the buildings, showing how many children were inoculated in each household.
While Leeper and his fellow travelers went to Pakistan under the auspices of Rotary, they were each responsible for their own expenses and travel arrangements. “I am really proud to be a part of this effort and proud to be part of Rotary. Rotary is a force for change the world over and I think that the people of Pakistan saw this as North America really reaching out to give them a hand, and for the most part they saw it as a positive thing,” concluded Leeper.
More information on Rotary and the fight against Polio can be found at http://www.rotary.org/en/ServiceAndFellowship/Polio/FactsAboutPolio/Pages/ridefault.aspx