World Rotarians rise to the challenge—reducing child mortality

17 June 2008

RFPD booth at the 99th Rotary Annual Convention
© WHO
RFPD booth at the 99th Rotary Annual Convention

17 June 2008, Los Angeles — Rotary International, a global volunteer organization of professional and business leaders, aims to focus its efforts on reducing child and maternal mortality in 2008-2009. At its 99th Annual Convention in Los Angeles, Rotary International’s incoming, President Dong Kurn Lee, called on more than 1.2 million Rotarians from across the world to “make dreams real for the world’s children”.

Rotary International, a charity credited as foremost in the historic campaign to eradicate polio, has announced another drive to raise US$100 million to finally erase polio from the face of earth. Since 1985, Rotary’s PolioPlus Program helped immunize more than two billion children in 122 countries. As of 2006, polio has been eradicated in all but four countries (Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan). The final fundraising push with partners such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, WHO, UNICEF and the CDC would effectively wipe out this crippling disease which once affected millions of children.

Rotary’s Action Group for Population Growth and Sustainable Development (RFPD) held a breakout session on child and maternal mortality at the Convention which took up its new theme for the biennium. The session was attended by nearly 200 Rotarians and featured Dr Robert Zinser, RFPD vice chair, and Dr. Ekkehard Pandel, RFPD chair for Germany and director-elect for the 2009-11 for the Rotary International Board, as well as Dr Francisco Songane, Director of the Partnership. The RFPD—a committed action group of Rotarians to raise awareness and mobilize action for maternal, reproductive health and development issues, has more than 20 000 members implementing projects in 75 countries and is a member of The Partnership.

“No individual or agency can achieve the reduction of child and maternal mortality alone, ” said Dr Zinser. He pointed out 11 project ideas that Rotarians can support in reducing child and maternal mortality. Dr Pandel, a pediatrician, stressed simple interventions to save children’s lives, starting with breastfeeding. “I deeply believe that care for mothers is the starting point to prevent child deaths, ”he said.

The director of The Partnership, Dr Francisco Songane addressed how Rotarians can save child and mothers’ lives. Dr Songane stressed that critical care is failing to reach children and mothers, causing more than 10 million unnecessary deaths a year. With children, he pointed out, the main killers are pneumonia, diarrhoea and malaria. “More than half of mothers in developing countries lack skilled care during birth, the most dangerous time for the survival of both mother and newborns.”

During the workshop, Rotarians shared thoughts and proposals: A successful US$1.3 million RFPD project on family planning and maternal health in Nigeria reported that healthier mothers are the driving force to improve health and education of children. In northern India, Saheli Centers (Lady Friends) operate vocational and educational centres that empower women, develop job skills as well as disseminate family planning and reproductive health services. Many Rotarians expressed concerned for the desperate need of many communities for “critical care”-- antibiotics, oral dehydration therapy, skilled health workers and clinics to save mother and child lives.

In conclusion, Rotarians felt they should now address the question of how the skills and enthusiasm of the PolioPlus initiative of thousands of Rotary clubs, districts and volunteers can be used to build and revive maternal and child health care in needy communities.

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