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NRIs, friends popularise polio drive

Anil Garg, an NRI, is back in India with some American friends to motivate people about the benefits of polio drops and to 'fight the last battle against the disease'.
By Prashant K Nanda | IANS, New Delhi
UPDATED ON FEB 15, 2008 11:53 AM IST

Sixty-four-year-old Anil Garg left India in 1970 for the United States, but for the last few years he has been visiting his homeland to motivate people to "fight the last battle against polio".

"I have been visiting India every February since 2000 and have so far brought over 200 US nationals to this country to participate in the polio drive, interact with religious leaders and tell people about the benefits of polio drops," said Garg.

A member of Rotary International in California, Garg is currently leading a group of nine American nationals and has already visited polio-prone districts like Moradabad and Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh.

"In 1999, we at Rotary International discussed the problem in India and senior officials told me to lead a group of volunteers to India for the cause," Garg told IANS.

Over the years, Rotary International has given India $74.3 million to fight the disease.

A financial advisor by profession, Garg said when people come know that he and his friends have come from the US to make the drive effective, they look at the immunisation campaign differently.

"The government of India is doing a good job to eradicate polio and our participation helps the larger cause. A lot of children come out of their home to watch a group of white men (US nationals), and eventually they get polio drops," he smiled.

His friend John Kenyon said: "I have been in Jaipur, Lucknow and Bareilly to participate in the immunisation drive. Interestingly, groups of village kids follow us and get polio drops from us."

"Indian Muslim clerics too have changed a lot over the years and are now listening to us. We generally tell them that polio drops are not against their kids' health but for their good health," said Kenyon, who has visited India thrice for the cause.

And since religious leaders wield influence on their devotees, roping them helps the campaign immensely. Health authorities have been making a point that some Muslim clerics are against the drive, as they believe it aims at making Muslims impotent. However, things are changing slowly.

India is number one in polio prevalence across the globe. In 2007, India reported 844 cases as against 676 cases the previous year. Across the globe, over 1,260 cases were reported in 2007.

Garg said bringing US nationals also helps in raising money for the Rotary and finally this fund comes to India and other polio prevalent countries.

"These people come to India, see the situation here and return as changed people. They either join the Rotary or donate money for the cause," he said pointing to another member of his team, Maud Kenyon.

"I was not a Rotarian but after my husband (John) told me about the situation in India, I joined Rotary. I am here to help the polio campaign become popular among people," said Maud, a psychologist by profession.

"The field visit also helps us renew our commitment towards health causes. Let me tell you religious leaders in India are much more receptive than their counterparts in Nigeria.

"India's commitment to polio eradication is much stronger than others and that's why the most dangerous polio strain (P1) has been controlled in a major way in India," she added.

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