Rotary members will finish the job

Aziz Memon, incoming Rotary Foundation Trustee and chair of the Pakistan National PolioPlus Committee, explains why he’s determined to finish the task of polio eradication.

“Tears were rolling down her cheeks. She was a true embodiment of pain and fatigue. She had huddled to her chest an eleven-year-old boy whose thin legs were hanging down, hampering her while she walked. I was stunned by the scene and stopped. I was curious to ask the woman what had happened to the child she was carrying. The poor woman wiped her tears to reply to me and revealed that out of her six children, three were suffering polio paralysis.”

Aziz Memon narrates his first encounter with a child suffering from polio. The experience proved life changing. Over 22 years, he has risen to become one of the most influential philanthropists working to end polio in Pakistan.

22 years, 200,000 vaccine carriers, and millions raised to end polio

Aziz Memon is a good person to speak to for insight into Rotary’s work in Pakistan. Chair of the Pakistan National PolioPlus Committee, Aziz is also a member of the International PolioPlus Committee. He has won multiple awards for his work to defeat the virus, and in October he became the first incoming Rotary Foundation Trustee appointed from Pakistan.

Aziz is most proud of his national committee’s work. He explains, “The committee has funded over 200,000 vaccine carriers for the entire EPI program in Pakistan. We have also supported vaccination at borders through permanent transit points, improved routine immunization at Permanent Immunization Centers, and helped provide basic medical care through female health workers. We have improved quality of life for families through solar filtration plants to provide clean water and have educated illiterate communities through providing speaking books. Rotarians create advocacy in schools, colleges, with Ulemas [Islamic religious scholars] and in their communities.”

With the support of Aziz and others, Rotary International has contributed millions of dollars to eradicate polio in Pakistan through the Government, WHO, and UNICEF.

Aziz has made a significant contribution to polio eradication efforts over the 22 years he has been working with the program.

A chance to make history

The global drive to root out polio has some way to go still, with the poliovirus remaining in Afghanistan and Pakistan. To break the impasse an intensive, innovative and persistent effort is required.

“Rotary International’s mission to eradicate polio globally is our top priority and Rotary has taken this mission forward and helped and supported governments in other polio endemic countries to eradicate this terrible disease. It will be a privilege to be part of history when polio is eradicated, the second disease to be wiped out after smallpox,” Aziz explains.

Aziz reiterates that vaccine hesitancy and misinformation are two of the remaining challenges in the fight against polio in Pakistan. “Misinformation spread through social media creates fear of the polio vaccine. Some security concerns still persist in tribal areas and there is weak accountability in places.”

In response, Rotary is supporting innovative strategies to address the challenges related to vaccine hesitancy. Aziz says, “Hesitancies must be skillfully addressed. We are working with Ulemas and religious scholars in all four provinces to create a positive image. Social media is playing a very strong role in averting misconceptions.”

Rotary is also a critical support to polio survivors who cannot afford their medical expenses. Aziz explains, “Rotary funds WHO to support a rehabilitation program for polio victims. The Rotary Club of Karachi also sponsors a community project called the Artificial Limb Center which provided prosthesis, caliphers, crutches and wheelchair for polio victims and amputees as well as those injured in accidents.”

Dreaming of a polio-free Pakistan

Polio eradication in Pakistan has been a long journey but Aziz is motivated to overcome the remaining challenges. “I motivate my fellows by nominating them for the Polio Free Service awards; publicizing their projects and activities in the monthly PolioPlus newsletter and honoring their services during the annual District Conference.”

A polio-free country is a dream for Pakistan. Reflecting on his feelings when India ended polio, to the joy of Rotarians worldwide, Aziz says, “It was good to know that a country like India could eradicate polio. It gives us hope that Pakistan can do it too, and we will soon be polio free.”

“Rotary was there at the beginning of the global effort to eradicate polio. If we stop now, polio may bounce back. We’ve done too much: we’ve made too much progress to walk away before we finish.”

The polio eradication campaign needs your help to reach every child. Thanks to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, your contribution to Rotary will be tripled. Donate now.

Originally posted on polioeradication.org.

Do You Have a Polio Story to Tell?
Share Your Story
Dr. Tunji Funsho | Dec. 4, 2019