Banerjee is the first RI president to visit Afghanistan. His visit was made possible through the work of Rotary Foundation Trustee Stephen R. Brown and Fary Moini, both members of the Rotary Club of La Jolla Golden Triangle, California, USA, which has carried out numerous successful educational projects in Jalalabad.

During their 45-minute meeting, Karzai and Banerjee discussed how lessons learned from India’s success might be applied in Afghanistan. Banerjee’s home country of India was removed from the polio-endemic list in February.

“I encouraged the president to keep up the intensity of the immunization program because, by doing so, they can stop polio as we did in India,” Banerjee said. “Once it stops, it stops. You don’t know when it will happen, or where the last polio case will be; but one day it will happen if you remain ever vigilant.”

Continued support for polio eradication

Karzai vowed his government will continue to support the eradication program and said he personally would help encourage and educate the Afghan public on the importance of reaching all children with the oral polio vaccine.

In discussing strategies, Banerjee said Muslim leaders who supported India’s polio immunization campaign could be encouraged to communicate with their Afghan counterparts to explain the importance of immunizations. Indian Rotary members were instrumental in gaining the support of influential clerics to help dispel misconceptions about polio immunizations within some Muslim communities.

Banerjee also said both countries could exchange teams of health workers so that Indian vaccinators can share best-practice approaches and learn more about the challenges facing polio eradication in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is one of only three countries where the wild poliovirus has never been stopped. So far in 2012, Afghanistan has reported five new polio cases out of the 36 recorded globally. The country reported 80 cases in 2011. The other two endemic countries are Nigeria and Pakistan. Polio infections due to cross-border traffic between Afghanistan and Pakistan are a continuing problem, making bi-national cooperation essential. Pakistan has reported 15 cases this year after posting 198 in 2011.

Rotary’s work in Afghanistan

Accompanying Banerjee on his historic visit were Brown; Moini; Dr. Ajmal Pardis, chair of Rotary’s Afghanistan National PolioPlus Committee and a member of the Rotary Club of Jalalabad; and Mohammad Ishaq, a member of the Rotary Club of Jalalabad.

Brown and Moini have led several projects in Afghanistan and participated in National Immunization Days there. The Global Connections and Exchange Program, an education project of the La Jolla Golden Triangle Rotary club, administers Internet training labs in 13 high schools as well as a central training facility in Jalalabad. The effort is part of a larger initiative to promote technology, curriculum development, and international collaboration.