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Rotarians help immunize 24 million Indonesian children
23-09-2005 (Rotary International)
Close to 24 million children in Indonesia received the oral polio vaccine during National Immunization Days held 30-31 August. To ensure that all targeted children were reached, more than 750,000 health workers and volunteers went door-to-door or staffed strategically located vaccination booths across the nation's 6,000 inhabited islands.

"[More than] 2,000 Rotarians participated in the NIDs in 15 out of 32 provinces," says Ritje Rihatinah, chair of Indonesia's National PolioPlus Committee. Rihatinah is also the immediate past governor of RI District 3400, which comprises Indonesia's 102 Rotary clubs. "Each club monitored and supervised 20 immunization posts and provided T-shirts for volunteers and Rotary members, and balloons for the children. They also did social mobilization and participated in independent monitoring, designed by WHO (World Health Organization)."

The mass campaign, the largest conducted on Indonesian soil, was aimed at countering a polio outbreak after a 20-month-old child in West Java province contracted the disease in March 2005. The virus, which has since spread to several other provinces, including Banten, Central Java, Jakarta, Lampung, and West Java, struck Indonesia after 10 years of reporting no cases of polio.

Rotarians from Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand joined their Indonesian neighbors to help defeat the poliovirus to ensure it would not spread to the entire region.

Genetic sequencing at a WHO laboratory traced the origin of the poliovirus that has reinfected Indonesia back to Nigeria, which was the epicenter of a 2003 outbreak that later spread to 19 other countries in Africa and the Middle East.

Aware of the risk of further poliovirus importations into other polio-free countries in the Asia-Pacific region, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative is supporting accelerated immunization activities in Indonesia with financial contributions and technical expertise.

"As with other infectious diseases, the poliovirus does not respect borders," explains Dr. David Heymann, WHO's representative for polio eradication. "The government of Indonesia has assured the polio partners that it is fully engaged and committed to stopping this outbreak and to doing everything it can to prevent further international spread of the virus."

Rotary International, a pioneer and leading member of the initiative, contributed US$250,000 to support emergency immunization efforts in the nation of more than 241 million.

"We are more-than-ever committed to the attainment of a polio-free world," says Frank J. Devlyn, chair of The Rotary Foundation Trustees.

According to Rihatinah, local Rotarians will participate in more social mobilization aimed at improving on the 95 percent rate of coverage in the end-of-August immunizations.

"If we could reach 100 percent of the target, meaning no unimmunized children," says Rihatinah, "we may say that [our] rapid response drastically reduces the chances of the poliovirus spreading into [other] Asian countries."

"Reaching every single child requires a massive communication effort, in highlighting to parents the dangers of the current polio outbreak and of the need to immunize every child," says Alan Court, director of UNICEF's supply division. "This is our best chance to protect Indonesia's children, safeguard vulnerable children across the region, and keep a polio-free world within our sight."

Despite the reinfection of several polio-free countries, the wild poliovirus is endemic in only six African and South Asian nations: Egypt, Niger, and Nigeria and Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan.

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