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First Congregational Church of Royal Oak
1314 Northwood Blvd.
Royal Oak, MI 48073-3123
United States of America
Currently meeting the first and third Tuesday of the month

The Seven Centers of Peace

Situated in different parts of the world, the Rotary Peace Centers offer tailor-made curricula to train individuals devoted to peacebuilding and conflict resolution — no matter where they land.

by Jeff Ruby Illustrations by Jason Schneider

Rita Lopidia vividly recalls her experiences as a Rotary Peace Fellow at the University of Bradford in England. “The classes in African politics and UN peacekeeping were my favorite,” she says. “The politics course challenged me to dig deeper into research to understand the history of the continent, and the peacekeeping class aided my understanding of global politics. As a practitioner, that was an eye-opener to have a global view of events happening around the world.”

Lopidia's time at the Rotary Peace Center profoundly affected her. "After graduation, I traveled back to Africa and settled in Uganda due to the ongoing conflict in South Sudan," she explains. "There I established the EVE Organization for Women Development and started engaging the South Sudanese refugees in Uganda and their host communities. Through my organization, we were able to mobilize South Sudanese women to participate in the South Sudan peace process promoted by eastern Africa's Intergovernmental Authority for Development — and that led to the signing of the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan in 2018."

Lopidia is just one of the 1,500-plus peace fellows from more than 115 countries who have graduated from a Rotary Peace Center since the program was created in 1999; the first peace centers began classes three years later. Currently, Rotary has seven peace centers in various locations around the world; the newest, at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda — the first in Africa — welcomed its inaugural cohort of peace fellows in 2021. Next, Rotary plans to establish a peace center in the Middle East or North Africa, perhaps as soon as 2024, and has set its sights on opening one in Latin America by 2030.

by Ryan Hyland

Rotary’s goal of ridding the world of polio is within reach, global health experts said during the 2021 World Polio Day Online Global Update on 24 October. The 30-minute program, “Delivering on our Promise of a Polio-Free World,” provided encouraging information about the progress and remaining challenges in the fight to end polio.

So far in 2021, only two cases of wild polio have been reported — the lowest circulation of the disease ever — with one infection each in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the two countries where polio remains endemic.

During a Q&A session, Dr. Hamid Jafari, director for the World Health Organization’s Eastern Mediterranean Region, attributed the low case count to several factors. He said these include mass polio vaccination campaigns resuming after the interruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the natural immunity induced by the wild polio outbreaks of previous years, and the restrictions on travel and population movement that also were due to the pandemic.

“This is truly unprecedented that we are seeing this decline simultaneously in the two countries,” Jafari said.

He added that the low case count provides a window of opportunity for health workers, but cautioned that a resurgence of the poliovirus is possible since summer is the high polio transmission season. “So this is the time to really press hard in making use of the opportunity that presents itself now,” he told Q&A host Jeffrey Kluger, editor at large for Time magazine.

Jafari also addressed the challenges of political change and security concerns in Afghanistan and explained that the polio program there is used to adapting operationally during uncertainty. “Currently we do see opportunities coming up as well, so that we may have access to all parts of Afghanistan for implementing mass vaccination campaigns,” he said.

According to the WHO and UNICEF, nationwide house-to-house polio vaccinations will resume in Afghanistan in early November, providing access to children in areas where campaigns had been banned for the last three years.

“You know with the evolving situation in Afghanistan, it is of course very, very important that we partners maintain our neutrality and impartiality of the polio eradication program,” Jafari added. “As always, we will continue to work with all parties.”

Mohammad Ishaq Niazmand, chair of Rotary’s Afghanistan PolioPlus Committee, echoed Jafari’s sentiments in a video address with his counterpart for Pakistan, Aziz Memon.

Niazmand said of Afghanistan, “Rotary and our partners are working with all stakeholders to ensure that polio eradication remains a top priority, even in the midst of change. Work is underway to ensure that children have access to lifesaving polio [vaccines] and other childhood vaccines.”

Memon, a Rotary Foundation trustee and chair of the Pakistan PolioPlus Committee, said Rotary continues to build trust with government, community, and religious leaders. “By bringing broader health services to children and families alongside polio vaccinations, we’re ensuring better health care and greater vaccine acceptance,” he said.

Strategies for the future

This year, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) announced a new five-year strategy for 2022-26 to end all polioviruses, including tackling the persistent transmission of circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus. Rotary and our GPEI partners identified the remaining obstacles to polio eradication and developed approaches to reaching the goal. The plan aims to achieve and sustain a polio-free world through a focus on implementation and accountability while using innovative methods and tools.

This is truly unprecedented that we are seeing this decline simultaneously in the two countries.

Dr. Hamid Jafari
Director for WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean Region

The emphasis will be on decreasing the response time to any outbreak, increasing vaccine demand, increasing access to health care and vaccines, transitioning toward government ownership of vaccination programs, and improving decision-making and accountability.

“Some of the most polio-endemic communities are also the ones that suffer from [a] lack of basic health and civic services,” Jafari said. The goal, he said, is a “better alignment and integration with other basic health and civic services in a way that the polio program is seen as a more integrated approach to vaccination.”

He added that in some communities, children are still missed because of gaps in the way vaccination campaigns are conducted or because of vaccine hesitancy. “This new strategy speaks to engaging the communities with new approaches, new strategies, partnering with communities, [and] building new alliances with these communities,” Jafari said.

The World Polio Day program featured global health experts addressing the new strategy’s tactic of broadening distribution of a new vaccine to address outbreaks of cVDPV2, a circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus. This novel oral polio vaccine type 2 (nOPV2) protects children against polio while being more genetically stable and less likely to regain strength and cause the vaccine-derived polio. It has already been introduced in several African countries, including Benin, Chad, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria, Republic of the Congo, and Sierra Leone.

This novel oral polio vaccine “is a powerful example of the polio program’s innovation to overcome the toughest challenges,” said Simona Zipursky, senior adviser to the polio director of WHO. “Partners, scientists, and leaders from around the world made nOPV2 possible. This is the kind of collaboration that will help end polio for good.”

This year’s program included a powerful video of polio health workers in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as Rotary members sharing their World Polio Day projects and events to raise awareness for polio eradication.

Watch the program on YouTube or Facebook.

Watch RI President Shekhar Mehta’s World Polio Day message.