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Rotarians’ hard work pays off for Polio eradication in India

In 1988, it was estimated that there were 350,000 cases of polio in 125 countries across the world and one of those most affected was India. Each year since 2007, Mike Yates, of the Marple and New Mills Rotary Club has spearheaded visits by hundreds of Rotarians to help with India’s Polio National Immunisation Days.

Funding their own airfares, the Rotarian volunteers have joined in annually with the polio immunisation teams in India, working at vaccination booths set up by Indian Rotarians and health agencies. They went to the poorest areas of Delhi and other cities and travelled to remote villages to make sure that children in areas with the highest risk of a polio epidemic were treated with the life-saving vaccine. 

Over sixteen million children have been immunised by volunteer Rotarians in India since 2007 and when the country was declared polio-free in 2014, the work of the Rotarian volunteers had made a huge contribution to the programme’s successful outcome.

To celebrate the campaign’s success and to acknowledge efforts made by the Rotary Club, 200 Rotarians from around the UK were invited to attend a reception in the House of Commons, hosted by William Wragg MP, local MP for the Hazel Grove Constituency, himself a Rotarian. 

Addressing volunteers at the reception, William Wragg said: “UNICEF, the World Health Organisation and even the Prime Minister of India have stated that it would not have been possible for the country to be polio-free without the work of Rotary. I would like to add my voice of thanks to you all for fantastic work, and in particular to Mike Yates who has co-ordinated Rotary’s Polio Immunisation work in India for the last 11 years, making over 20 trips to India with his wife Bernice.”

Mike Yates added: “Thanks to the offer of William Wragg to host the event in such historic surroundings, we have been able to bring together volunteers, from Orkney to Guernsey, from the West of Ireland to the East of England to celebrate and share their experiences in India.”

Secretary of State for International Development, the Rt. Hon. Penny Mordaunt MP, said

“It’s really hard to overstate the importance of the achievement of India becoming polio-free. It was an historic milestone in the road to global eradication. The dream of making India polio-free would not have been realised without massive social mobilisation and the remarkable, selfless work of volunteers from Rotary.”

The Westminster reception was also attended by a representative of the Indian National Polio Committee, Manjit Sawhney, who came from Delhi for the occasion. He presented scarves and commemorative watches to the Rt. Hon. Penny Mordaunt MP, William Wragg MP and Rotarian Mike Yates to thank them for their contributions to making India polio-free.

The UK government has provided financial support to help in the fight against this disease and Rotary Club volunteers have provided the means to deliver protection to where the most vulnerable children live. India has now been declared polio-free and last year there were only 37 reported cases of the disease worldwide, occurring in Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan where work on the complete eradication of polio is continuing.