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John Hoffmire: Syria is latest nation to report polio outbreaks

Published: Monday, Jan. 6 2014 12:10 a.m. MST

Rotary International responded quickly to Syria’s need with a $500,000 emergency grant to the World Health Organization. Rotary and WHO have long been partners in the global effort to eradicate polio. Dr. Robert S. Scott, chairman of Rotary’s PolioPlus program, said that “these and other recent polio cases in previously polio-free countries serve as a reminder that as long as polio still exists anywhere in the world, all unimmunized children everywhere remain at risk.”

In other good news, “The Horn of Africa outbreak is on the decline, including in Banadir, Somalia, the ‘engine’ of the outbreak (no cases since July 2013).” The recent immunization effort in the Middle East has already protected 1.6 million children against polio, mumps, measles and rubella since Oct. 24, 2013. That same effort will reach 22 million children under the age of 5 in countries including, and those bordering on, Syria over the next six months.

According to Rotary, the annual number of new polio cases has plummeted by more than 99 percent since the 1980s, when polio infected about 350,000 people annually. Rotary also reports that since then more than 2 billion children have been immunized in 122 countries, preventing 13 million cases of paralysis and 250,000 deaths.

Cease-fires have been negotiated to allow for immunizations. Around the world in places as diverse as Afghanistan and Congo, Iraq and Tajikistan, pauses in hostilities so that children can live disease-free have occurred over the past 20 years. Variously known as Humanitarian Cease-Fire; Days of Tranquility; Corridors of Peace; Safe Havens; Sanctuaries of Peace; and Zones of Peace, they all allow for the provision of health and humanitarian assistance. That can happen again in some of the most war-torn parts of Syria.

John Hoffmire teaches at SaÏd Business School at the University of Oxford.

R. Craig Wilson is a director of Progress Through Business and immediate past district governor for Rotary International for northern Arizona.

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