RI President Kalyan Banerjee met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul 2 April, marking the first time an RI president has visited the country. Banerjee presented a medal to Karzai in recognition of Karzai’s support for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, in which Rotary is a spearheading partner.

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.”

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.