SOUTHBOROUGH, Mass. — Dr. Philip Sandler of the Brookline Rotary Club traveled with nine other Rotarians to Mali, West Africa, last November hoping to see a country that had been polio-free for several years.
However, that was not to be as some polio cases came into the country from Nigeria, one of the few places left in the world were the disease still exists.
Such is the trouble with Rotary International's mission to fully eradicate polio. Though 99 percent of the world is free from the disease, Sandler said, the cases that remain make up "the hardest 1 percent."
Sandler joined Southborough Rotarian Dr. Ovid Fraser at the Southborough Library on Wednesday night, where the pair discussed their respective trips to impoverished countries on behalf of Rotary International.
Sandler said he first became interested in the idea of traveling to Mali after hearing a talk by Ann Lee Hussey, a Rotarian and former district governor of the Maine Rotary District. After Hussey described her many trips around the world fighting polio, Sandler applied for the next one, scheduled to depart in November 2011. Along with nine other Rotarians, he traveled to Bamako, Mali’s capital.
Administering a polio vaccine is simple enough that you don't need to be a doctor, Sandler said.
"It involves putting two drops of liquid in a baby's mouth," he said. "Once everyone is immunized, it's gone. It's not over until it's over."
For Fraser, the chance to work in Guyana, South America was more than a project. For this Guyana native, it was personal.
"I was excited about the thought of doing something for my folks," he said.
Fraser traveled to Guyana several times in 2012 as part of the GEMINI Project, which seeks to improve the quality of emergency medicine around the world. Founded in 1999 by Westborough Rotarians Paul Gallagher and Dr. Jorge Yarzebski, the project has hosted programs in countries like Armenia, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua.
Armed with a Rotary International grant of $46,000, Fraser and a GEMINI team made two visits to the country, where they taught 47 nurses basic life support techniques and advanced cardiac life support. In a third trip, scheduled for this October, they expect to have trained a total of 75. By that point, 12 of the trainees will be advanced enough to train future nurses themselves, making the program more sustainable.
Fraser asked the audience in the library to consider joining their local Rotary Club.
"We believe that we have been blessed and have an obligation to share those blessings," he said. "What we do changes lives in permanent ways."