Rotary Teamwork Enables New Approach to Eradicating Polio    

April, 2014

Credit for launching a new approach to encouraging polio vaccinations in Pakistan can be traced half way around the world to the Rotary Club of Hilton Head Island, S.C   The club, at the suggestion of member Brian Julius, CEO of Speaking Books, Inc., had funded a book to address the issue of mental illness and suicide in Julius’s native South Africa.  Upon presentation of that project’s success, PDG club member Bernie Riedel posed the simple question: “Why wouldn’t this work for educating people about the importance of polio vaccinations in Pakistan and Nigeria, the two remaining targets for worldwide polio eradication?”

polio fundraising hilton headThe power of the Rotary International network was put into motion!  In October 2013, 5000 colorful and message-driven speaking books, recorded in Urdu and Pashto, were delivered to Pakistan with the expectation of reaching more than 100,000 residents who do not have reading skills.  And discussions continue with Nigerian officials for a similar intervention.

The success of Speaking Books in delivering needed messages of disease prevention to oft times skeptical, illiterate populations is well documented.  By simply pressing a button to the corresponding illustrated page, users are able to listen to the messages recorded in their own languages.  Pharmaceutical companies have been the primary sponsors of the 50+ books previously produced by Speaking Books in 28 languages on such topics as:  maternal child health, immunizations, hand washing, HIV, and suicide prevention.  Follow up research has shown that the books are viewed and comprehended by as many people as 20-50 times the initial distribution.

polio fundraising book hilton headThe new Rotary sponsored book, entitled A Story of Health, is an educational tool that enables community workers to inform men, women and children on the importance of sanitation, hygiene and vaccination in preventing the spread of polio.  Itwas delivered and officially introduced in Karachi, Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, Pakistan, on World Polio Day, October 25, 2013.  Participating dignitaries in the Karachi ceremony included the Senior Minister for Education (Sindth), the District Governor, as well as area Rotary and UNICEF representatives.

National Chair of Pakistan’s Polio Plus Committee, Aziz Memon, commended the global collaboration among partners throughout the development and production of the Speaking Book – sponsored by Rotary International, designed in South Africa, written, illustrated, and recorded in Pakistan in consultation with UNICEF, and printed in China.  A life-size book on display was signed by all the participants at the ceremony.  Children from the local school were given polio mobilization items in the form of speaking books, pencils, badges and plastic mugs.

This accomplishment can be attributed directly to global collaboration and the networking ability of Rotary International.  Starting at a local club’s initiative, the project moved forward rapidly to district, national and international offices to the credit of many Rotarians:

  • The Hilton Head Island club contacted District 7770 PDG and RI Vice President Dr. Anne L. Matthews and District 7730 PDG Nancy Barbee, who recommended that the concept  be taken to RI’s Polio Plus Director Carol Pandak  and Polio Plus Senior Coordinator Amy Young in Evanston;
  • Amy Young contacted PDG Aziz Memon, Chair of the Pakistan National Polio Plus Committee, who indicated strong interest in a pilot program;
  • Sample books from earlier projects were sent to Pakistan, an enthusiastic response obtained, and the project moved forward with Alina Visram, Manager, Polio Plus Pakistan, as coordinator;
  • Alina Visram recruited the support of UNICEF in providing storyline, copy and illustration services and oversaw the recording and editing of the book;
  • At the recommendation of UNICEF, the storyline was expanded beyond education/encouragement for polio vaccinations to include good hygiene and sanitation, washing hands, and safe practices for a healthy life style;
  • With RI’s agreement to fund the initial 5000 bilingual Speaking Books in Urdu and Pushto with printed text in Urdu and English, the production process was expedited and books delivered in a very short time frame.

polio speaking books hilton headFrom the initial idea on Hilton Head Island in early 2013 to the delivery and introduction of the books at Pakistan’s World Polio Day in October 2013 to distribution along the NW border with Afghanistan in January 2014, the project took less than one year.  Pakistan’s Alina Visram says:  “I know Speaking Books will be instrumental in educating communities to rid us of this terrible scourge that cripples children for life.”  Speaking Books’ Brian Julius said that with all the books his company has produced, he has never seen the energy, commitment and collaboration exhibited on this project.  THAT’S THE POWER OF ROTARY TEAMWORK!