By Luiz Renato Dantas
Rotary clubs in Brazil mobilized to help stave off a potential polio outbreak after dangerously low vaccination rates were reported by health officials last year. More than 11 million Brazilian children were inoculated during a massive two-month vaccination campaign, reversing a trend of plummeting immunization coverage.
Brazil Rotary clubs held End Polio Now vaccination festivals, which included food, entertainment, local celebrities, games.
The government said more than 300 cities in the country had low rates of vaccination against diseases such as influenza, measles, and polio. The Ministry of Health called the situation “extremely serious.”
Measles were spreading in an outbreak that eventually sickened more than 1,500 people in Brazil. Health officials worried that poliovirus could also re-emerge. Brazil’s massive national immunization campaign from 6 August to 28 September aimed to vaccinate at least 95 percent of children ages one to five.
The measles cases were concentrated in the northern states where thousands of Venezuelan refugees have crossed the border to escape economic and political hardships. Many haven’t been immunized, because Venezuela’s health system is in crisis.
Rotary leaders in Brazil found the possibility that poliovirus could resurge frightening, said Marcelo Haick, a regional coordinator for Rotary’s End Polio Now initiative. They knew they had to help health workers reach the millions of children who might be vulnerable to the paralyzing disease.
“The campaign was a success,” says Haick, a member of the Rotary Club of Santos-Praia in São Paulo state. “To our great surprise, clubs throughout the country responded in a way unlike anything we have ever seen.”
More than 11 million children were vaccinated during the initiative, reaching the government’s goal of 95 percent coverage, the target recommended by the World Health Organization.
Rotary members went to events and high-risk communities to announce the vaccination campaign.
According to Haick, every Rotary club in the country participated in the campaign in some way.
Clubs and districts promoted the vaccinations. A majority of clubs, says Haick, produced leaflets and distributed them at schools and at busy street crossings.
Some used other methods to draw attention to the cause:
Pedro Durão, another End Polio Now coordinator, says Rotary’s awareness campaign was widespread. “It was a mass adoption,” he says. “It was gratifying to see the work done by the clubs and districts throughout Brazil. I’ve been in Rotary since 1991 and have never seen such great enthusiasm.”
Rotary leaders in Brazil hope the success of this effort can inspire clubs and districts, not only in their country but also in others that are at risk of a resurgence of polio, to continue to raise awareness of the importance of polio immunization and other potentially lifesaving vaccinations.
• This story was adapted from Revista Rotary Brasil.
Rotary members, including those in District 4670, used sporting events to promote polio vaccinations.