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Rotary challenges world’s governments to target Polio

Ahead of the UN General Assembly, Evanston-based humanitarian group holds strategy session with members from around the world including Pakistan and Nigeria

Mary Stitt
(Richard Bajjalieh/Chicago Tribune)

By Susan Berger, Special to the Chicago Tribune

Mary Stitt is an 87-year-old retired elementary school principal, mother of five, grandmother of 11 and great-grandmother of six.

The Arlington Heights resident also is part of a worldwide effort by Rotary International to eradicate polio. Stitt has traveled to India, Niger and Nigeria a total of six times since 2004 to inoculate children with polio vaccine. When she walks down the streets of Nigeria, she says, she is easily recognizable because there are not too many elderly white women.

RI President Sakuji Tanaka gave his full attention and valuable input during the two strenuous days of the PolioPlus seminar.

“They call me Grandma Mary,” said Stitt, a Rotarian for 20 years who has stayed active following cardiac stent surgery in 2009. “The last time I was in Nigeria in the fall of 2010, we were out in the neighborhoods, and a woman said to me, ‘I know you.’”

Stitt is one of more than a million Rotarians who have donated their time and money to a program called PolioPlus, which started in 1988 with the goal of eradicating polio, a highly infectious and crippling disease.
To date, Rotary has raised more $1.2 billion for an effort that has reached more that 2 billion children in 122 countries.

Barbara M. Finley, End Polio Now Zone 31 Coordinator, Past RI President Jim Lacy, Chair, Polio Eradication Advocacy Task Force for the US and John Germ, IPPC Vice Chair for Development push hard for an end to Polio.

The results of the efforts by Rotary and other organizations battling polio are staggering. In 1988, 125 countries were polio-endemic and more than 350,000 children paralyzed each year. In 2011, there were 650 new cases globally in 16 countries, according to the World Health Organization. This year, as of last week, there have been 128 new cases in four countries.

Three of those countries, Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan, have never been polio-free. They have accounted for 123 of this year’s cases (the others have been in Chad). The disease continues to present a significant challenge, not only to the health of people living there but also to those from other countries who come in contract through travel. Officials battling polio fear that a rebound in overall cases could harm eradication efforts.

Bob Scott, IPPC Chairman makes a point as Boris Crestia, Rotary Public Image Coordinator, Zone 20 from Benin and Busuyi Onabolu, National PolioPlus Committee Chair, Nigeria listen intently.

In August, 50 Rotary leaders from the U.S. and nine other nations met at the organization’s headquarters in Evanston to strategize for a United Nations General Assembly meeting Sept. 27 at which U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to issue a strong call to action in support of polio eradication.

The polio virus primarily strikes children under 5, according to the World Health Organization. It causes paralysis by invading the nervous system, sometimes just hours after being contracted. One in 200 who get the virus will be paralyzed, and among those, 5 to 10 percent will die when their breathing muscles become immobilized. The United States, once gripped in fear of the disease for decades, is one of many parts of the world considered polio-free, but children (in the USA) still are inoculated.

Ashok Mirchandani, Africa Regional PolioPlus Committee Chair, Benin; Past RI President Jonathan Majiyagbe, Advisor to the International PolioPlus Committee, Nigeria and Olayinka H. Babalola, End Polio Now Zone 20A Coordinator, Nigeria discuss the issues at hand.

Aziz Memon, the national chairman of PolioPlus in Pakistan, who gave a presentation at the Evanston meeting, said terrorism, corruption, floods, inaccessibility, religious misconception and a drop in routine immunizations have been barriers toward worldwide eradication after years of tremendous progress.

“This is the time, this is the best time,” Memon said, explaining that the world is at a tipping point in eradication. Holding up his thumb and index finger, he said, “We are this close.”

Aziz Memon, National PolioPlus Committee Chair, Pakistan, Past Rotary International Director Ashok Mahajan, Member of the International PolioPlus Committee,Ritje Rihatinah, End Polio Now Zone 6B Coordinator, Pratheep S. Malhotra, RI President Sakuji Tanaka along with the two Japanese interpreters spent two days together at the same table relentlessly coming up with ideas and suggestions.

But accessibility to politically charged areas is difficult, preventing youths who need inoculations from receiving them.
“The issue is in the north FATA region (the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan near Afghanistan), where the war is going on and drone attacks are going on, and we are not allowed there,” Memon said.

Memon explained that following the death of Osama bin Laden, local officials will not allow vaccinators into the area. Shakil Afridi, a local doctor recruited by the CIA to obtain DNA from members of bin Laden’s family, entered bin Laden’s home on the pretense of vaccinating for meningitis. Since that time, efforts to vaccinate children for polio in the FATA region have been thwarted.

Pratheep Malhotra, Rotary Public Image Coordinator, Zone 6B represented Thailand at the PolioPlus seminar in Evanston, USA.

“They don’t allow us to enter there,” Memon said. “When the people (from that region) are displaced, they move all over Pakistan and can transmit polio.”

Organizers take comfort in the success they have had in eradicating polio from India. According to The World Health Organization, that country had 75,000 new cases in 1988. That was reduced to 741 in 2009, 42 in 2010 and 1 in 2011.

In Pakistan, Memon said, notable personalities have joined the efforts to immunize. Cricket star Shahid Afridi has produced TV commercials in which he says, “Do you choose a cricket bat or crutches?”

The PolioPlus seminar was given a sense of urgency with the participation of Past RI President Carl-Wilhelm Stenhammar, Past RI President Jim Lacy, current President Sakuji Tanaka and Past RI President Wilf Wilkinson.

Assefa Bhutto Zardari, the 19-year-old daughter of slain Pakistan President Benazir Bhutto and the first child in that country to be vaccinated against polio, has also made public service commercials.

And Americans like Stitt, who hopes to make another trip abroad this winter, are doing their part. In 2008, Stitt met a 7-year-old girl in Jos, Nigeria. She was sitting on the ground, her limbs shriveled by polio, and she couldn’t move. Stitt paid $150 to get her a bicycle-propelled wheelchair. When she returned to the states, Stitt organized the Arlington Heights Rotary to raise $2,500 for wheelchairs for children in Jos crippled by polio.

Peter Malhotra, Rotary Public Image Coordinator of Zone 6B, presents a copy of the Pattaya Mail to Sakuji Tanaka, President of Rotary International during the PolioPlus Seminar held at the Hilton Garden Inn in Evanston, USA on August 21-22, 2012. Peter explained that the Pattaya Mail Media Group, which comprises of the Pattaya Mail, Pattaya Blatt (German), Chiang Mai Mail and PMTV, are staunch supporters of Rotary and regularly publicize Public Service Announcements (PSA) and articles on the good work of Rotarians in their publications and TV programs.

The goal, however, is to prevent children from contracting the disease.
Richard Rivkin, 64 of Deerfield and a member and past president of Northbrook Rotary, led a team of 20 to India in February. While polio has been virtually eradicated in India, children still need to be vaccinated because it borders Pakistan, where the disease is still endemic, he said. He participated in a three-day national immunization during which 197 million children were immunized.

Rivkin said he and his team arrived in Moradabad, and in addition to working at booths and stands and going house to house, they also went to train stations. Each child would receive two drops of vaccine and then their little finger would be marked with a semipermanent marker.

“It is an amazing experience to watch a parent’s eyes and face as we are putting life-saving medicine in the mouths of their children,” Rivkin said. “We will never know if any of the children that our team gave vaccine to will grow up to be a teacher, a scientist, a government official or a business leader. We don’t know. But we did our part.”

Aziz Memon presents a special publication on the eradication of Polio in Pakistan to Past RI President Wilf Wilkinson.

Rivkin said the Indian government is committed to sharing their expertise and techniques and technology with neighboring countries Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“Ten years ago India was thought to be the biggest challenge, just because of the sheer numbers of the population,” he said. “The sheer numbers are staggering. India has four times the population of the U.S. compressed into one-third of the land mass of the continental U.S.

“With the government and support of the world community, Rotary, UNICEF, the World Health Organization and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, we put this together and were able to achieve this milestone,” Rivkin said. “With the continuing support of the international community, (the worldwide eradication of polio) can happen.”

Past Rotary International Director Ashok Mahajan, Member of the International PolioPlus Committee, Aziz Memon, National PolioPlus Committee Chair, Pakistan and Ritje Rihatinah, End Polio Now Zone 6B Coordinator share their ideas.

Carol Pandak, the manager of PolioPlus in Evanston, warns that while the numbers of polio cases are low, the funding required to interrupt the transmission of the virus is significant,

“Through 2013 the funding gap is right now $945 million,” Pandak said.
Rotary International estimates a $40 billion to $50 billion savings from polio eradication, funds that could be use to address other health issues. The savings in human suffering, they say, are immeasurable.


Travelling Soul

Photographer Chamni Thipmanee (second left) is joined by Swiss Honorary Consul Marc Dumur, Donjai Srivichainanda (far right) and Supreeda “Jeap” Wongsansee (far left).

The Travelling Soul: In Search Of Northern Thai Spirit’ is an exhibition of 53 stunning photographs in black & white and color by leading Thai photographer Chamni Thipmanee, one of Thailand’s leading photographers, which opened August 25, 2012 at the Tamarind Village Chiang Mai. The exhibition is on display through December 9 and is made up of a series of striking portraits, architectural and landscape images and scenes of everyday life taken by the photographer over the past decade during his travels through the north of Thailand. The images capture the beauty of Lanna culture and customs and document a way of life that is fast disappearing.

In ‘The Travelling Soul’ Thipmanee takes us on a journey across a region through his own eyes, inviting us to reflect on a variety of topics from Buddhism to spirit worship and nature to cultural identity and changing values. The images, at once emotive and thought-provoking, also serve to link the artist’s inner journey with his outward search to capture a fragile and rapidly changing way of life.

Award-winning SEA Write Poet Chiranan Pitpreecha, a writer, social activist and longtime friend of the artist opened the event with a lovely poem that she wrote about the artist. The photographs are accompanied by excerpts from interviews with Chiang Mai natives and long term residents of the city whose personal reflections give added perspective and meaning to each of them.

The owner of Tamarind Village K. Vichien Pongsathorn, President and CEO of the Premier Group of Companies is joined by his daughter and German Honorary Consul Hagen Dirksen and his wife Wanphen Sakdatorn.

One of the artist’s many evocative photos on display at the Tamarind Village until December 9, 2012.

Friends get Creative

(From left) Apiradee “Oh” Tantivejkul of JJ Market, Duenpen “Boong” Chaladlam of BTS Travel and the Chiang Mai Friends, Eveline Willi of the Lanna Swiss Society, and Julie Petchor of NIS enjoyed the lecture.

By Shana Kongmun

The Chiang Mai Friends had a very special guest speaker in the form of Chiang Mai Creative City Development Committee member Martin Venzky-Stalling who spoke with the members at the handmade chiangmai exhibition at OP Place next to Le Meridien Hotel.

The exhibit features the creative handicrafts of Chiang Mai, not just the traditional but also modern materials with a traditional twist. However, the Chiang Mai Creative City initiative is far more than promoting handicrafts, as Martin explained.

Now coming into their second year, the committee acts more as a link between ideas, programs, businesses and investors than any active investment or recruiting themselves. The Committee came into life after a visit by then U.S. Ambassador Eric John at a Creative Economy conference in Chiang Mai in February 2010.

Martin noted to the interested audience that initially the Committee focused on the IT sector but realized that a creative economy in Chiang Mai should encompass all aspects of creativity not just in IT and media design.

To that end they have helped organize TedX Tha Pae Gate talks, been involved with the BarCamp IT meetings, organized the Chiang Mai Design Awards two years running, as well as working hand in hand with the U.S. Consulate General on creative economy projects and the latest, handmade chiangmai, in conjunction with the British Council.

The Friends were quite interested in Martin’s presentation and asked questions about the scope of the effort, its authority and government participation and support. The group then toured the exhibition, with great interest in the 3d interactive display and the holographic images as well as the videos that played showcasing the artisans in the project.
The group then retired to enjoy dinner and conversation at Le Meridien’s Latest Recipe buffet dinner.

Duenpen “Boong” Chaladlam is presented with a CMCC poster by Martin Venzky-Stalling.

Nancy and Roger Lindley enjoyed the 3D interactive display.

Martin Venzky-Stalling (3rd left) spoke to the Chiang Mai Friends on the Chiang Mai Creative City Committee and the Creative City Initiative.

Martin Venzky-Stalling points out the many exhibitors that displayed their creative techniques on the video that played in the bamboo display room at OP Place at Le Meridien.

The Muslim Community celebrates Halal

U.S. Consul General Kenneth L. Foster and Zahra T. Suratwala, U.S. Muslim Woman Speaker/ Co-Founder of Best Religion Book 2011 speak with local community leaders at the opening of Halal Street Fair in Chiang Mai. (Photo courtesy of US Consulate General Chiang Mai.)

By Shana Kongmun
The local Muslim community joined together to participate in the Halal Street Festival held off the Night Bazaar section of Charoen Krung Road on the weekend of September 7-10, 2012.

Colorful batiks were also on sale at the Halal Festival.

The festival featured bright, fantastic clothing so different from the Lanna style but also a plethora of delicious Halal foods that lined the small soi off the street and into a nearby building where performances also took place. Small boys sang traditional songs, there were dancers and musicians. The street took on a festive air and one that certainly bears repeating more often as the diversities of culture that can be found in Chiang Mai are celebrated.

Chiang Mai Deputy Governor Ritthipong Techapun opened the festival with U.S. Consul General Kenneth L Foster and leaders of the local Muslim community. American Zahra Suratwala was also on hand after speaking to local Muslim women about her anthology of American Muslim women’s stories called “I Speak For Myself.”

The Halal Street Fair was a very busy event with not only local people but many tourists dropping in to try something new.

Children took part in entertaining the crowd with traditional songs.

Silpakorn Brass Ensemble thrills in the rain

The Ensemble consisted of five very talented young men included trumpet and leader Lertkiat Chongjirajitra, Sasis Jitrangsun, trumpet, Pitch Tanapaisankit, trumpet, Navi Hongskul horn, Nath Khamnak, trombone and euphonium, and Poumpak Charuprakorn, tuba.

By Shana Kongmun
The Silpakorn Brass Ensemble traveled to Chiang Mai at the invitation of the Friends of Music Making in Chiang Mai to entertain a very large crowd at the Kru Siam Spa Restaurant in Sansai Luang on Saturday, September 6, 2012.

Their performance included the lively Prince of Denmark’s March and Copland’s Simple Gifts as well as some wonderful 16th century music, essentially dueling trumpets of the Middle Ages, followed by lively music from Disney movies and closed out with fantastic performances from Porgy and Bess including a rendition of I’m On My Way that brought the house down. They came back to conclude the evening with a wonderful performance of one of HM the King’s compositions.

The Friends of Music Making continue to bring magnificent performers to Chiang Mai, all of their shows can be found listed in our community happenings calendar.

The inimitable Dr. Howard Graves (far left) is joined by friends at the evening’s music.

Sophie and Jennifer stayed for dinner with their friends after the show ended.

David, Celeste, Barry and Jet enjoyed the music at Kru Siam Spa Restaurant.

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]]

Rotary challenges world’s governments to target Polio

Travelling Soul

Friends get Creative

The Muslim Community celebrates Halal

Silpakorn Brass Ensemble thrills in the rain