Two local Rotarians and a massage therapist will be heading to India on Feb. 17 at their own expense to assist with the vaccination of 250,000 children during a national polio immunization day.
PolioPlus is a Rotary program launched in 1985 with the goal of immunizing all the world's children against polio by 2005, at which time Rotary's financial commitment will exceed half a billion dollars. Sechelt Rotarian Heather Blackwood, area coordinator for PolioPlus, said Feb. 22 will be India's last national immunization day and many volunteers are needed to do the whole country at once. Blackwood, who has a background in nursing, said she will be paired up with an Indian Rotarian and then trained on what her role will be in the immunization process. Following the immunization, Blackwood will travel throughout India and also be attending an international Rotary conference.
"It will be a whole new experience for me," Blackwood said. "It's a fulfillment of a dream for me to be part of a health initiative that has been multi-faceted in trying to eradicate polio."
Sechelt Rotarian Sheila Pope said a little bell went off in the back of her head telling her to participate in the India immunizations. Her dad is a Rotarian who was cured of polio at age 12.
"It's wonderful to be a part of it," Pope said. "Even one person can make a difference. I'm excited to have the opportunity to immerse myself in India's culture."
Local massage therapist Brenda Wilkinson will also be heading to India with Blackwood and Pope. She said she always wanted to go to India and is excited about the trip.
"It seems like a good cause," Blackwood said. "I will be staying with people from the country which will help me get to know the culture better."
Sechelt Rotary Club president Marg Green said PolioPlus was one of the most ambitious humanitarian programs ever undertaken by a private-sector organization and became a catalyst for the World Heath Organization's resolution in 1988 to eradicate polio.
"Great progress has been made," Green said. "Seven countries remain polio endemic. The number of cases worldwide has decreased by 99 per cent since 1985."
Green said the local Rotary Clubs on the Sunshine Coast have been supporting the PolioPlus program primarily through member contributions. In the last two years, members of the Sechelt Rotary Club have contributed in excess of $7,000 of their own money.
"Because volunteering at these immunization days is part of Rotary's commitment, we have the opportunity to have two of our members join an immunization group in India this month," Green said. "At their own expense they will give back to the world in a way many of us can only imagine. One of the advantages of being a Rotarian is you have a world network of individuals trying to make a difference."