World Polio Day 2014 Hails the End of Polio
On World Polio Day 24 October, Rotary leaders joined global health experts and celebrity singers to hail the progress of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (which includes Rotary, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) and highlighted the 30 year fight to end polio which is now uncontrolled in only the three countries where transmission has never been stopped - Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria - the last bastions of a disease that once affected 350,000 children a year. This crippling disease is now on the cusp of being eradicated by 2018, making it the second infectious disease to be eradicated.
More than 2.5 billion children have been vaccinated and the annual number of polio cases has fallen by more than 99% from the 350,000 in 1988. UNICEF estimates that 10 million people would have otherwise been infected, while 1.5 million lives have been saved. Rotary has contributed more than $1.2 billion to polio eradication since taking on the disease in 1979 and recently the Foundation announced it will provide an additional $44.7 million. Rotary continues to raise funds for this fight and every $1 Rotary commits to polio eradication becomes $3 thanks to the 2-to-1 match from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
According to the World Health Organisation Pakistan now accounts for 80 percent of global cases mostly because of the troubles it faces in vaccinating children. In far-flung areas of the country, some parents and religious leaders are sceptical of the vaccine, requiring considerable face-to-face outreach by vaccination teams. But the Pakistani Taliban and other Islamist militants have waged a brutal campaign against those teams, killing more than 50 health workers and security officials since 2012. The attacks began after it was discovered that the CIA had used a vaccination campaign to gain information about Osama bin Laden's whereabouts. However Rotary members have established seven polio resource centres in Pakistan to build community trust in areas that are at high risk of the disease and this week a three day campaign was launched in SW Pakistan to vaccinate 850,000 children.
John Kenny, Chair, Rotary International Foundation Trustees writes: "Almost three decades ago, we Rotarians made a choice to give something far more important tl1an money. We chose to give our word - that we would eradicate the poliovirus and create a future free of fl1e disease. But we haven't yet kept that word. We haven't yet made the earth polio free. And in the words of Henry Ford, 'You can't build a reputation on what you are going to do'.
In Rotary, we have been saying for many years that we are going to eliminate polio. lt is my hope that there will soon come a time when we will be able to say that we have done it. Rotarians throughout the world have been walking this road for many years. Polio eradication has been part of Rotary for decades now. We talk about if, we work toward it and we've raised money for it- a great deal of money, over more than one campaign already. And now we are asking our fellow Rotarians, and being asked ourselves, to do and give more. We recognise that there will be those who feel they have given enough already to the cause of Polio eradication - those who feel we 11ave done enough and that it is time to move on. To those I say: If we pause, if we slacken now, if we say "almost" is the same as "did' we risk losing all that we have already given. We risk our own good name and the good name of all the Rotarians who came before us.
This is something that we as Rotarians cannot and will not accept. We must continue until we finish the Job."