By Brian Ojanpa
The Free Press
Come mid-February, Donald Putzier will be part of an ongoing humanitarian mission to help keep India polio-free.
The Mankato Clinic physician will be paying his own way for a 10-day stay as part of Rotary International’s long-standing efforts to aid polio-eradication work in that nation.
“I’ve always wanted to go but the timing was never right and the trips filled up quickly,” said Putzier, a Greater Mankato Rotary member who will be in a 45-person group administering oral vaccines and engaging in other Rotary service projects during its stay.
Last year the World Health Organization removed India from the list of polio-endemic countries, disproving experts who had maintained that the disease couldn’t be eradicated there.
The last child in India known to have contracted polio is a 3-year-old girl stricken two years ago, and proof that eradication efforts have been wholly successful rests with the numbers.
By 2009, reported polio cases in India had fallen to 741, and by 2010 the number dropped to 42.
“In India it’s not a hard sell,” Putzier said of the vaccinations — and that’s despite anti-Western Taliban efforts in adjoining Pakistan to politicize the vaccines by spreading rumors about their safety.
In December in Pakistan nine health care workers were murdered during a polio-vaccine drive.
Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan are the three remaining countries where the polio virus is still endemic.
The last case of naturally occurring polio in the United States was in 1979.
Putzier said donations to Rotary are always welcome because since 1985 the worldwide organization has contributed more than $1 billion to polio-eradication efforts and has helped solicit more than $9 billion from donor governments.
Despite that, the global eradication initiative faces a $700 million funding gap this year.