World Polio Day
Jim Hudson
October 24th was World Polio Day.  It is a time to reflect on the scars the disease has left on countless children over the years but for us as Rotarians to be aware of our commitment to the total eradication of the disease and to promote the significance of the Global Polio Eradication Campaign to our community.
Quite a few of you will not be aware of Rotary’s involvement and commitment to take on this mammoth task.  It all started in 1985 when Rotary initiated and undertook the vaccination of young children in the Philippines. 
It was so successful that in 1988 a global project, in association with WHO, UNICEF and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention was initiated.  I can only marvel at the vision of those that said ‘if we can do it in one country, we can do it worldwide.”
That was when the world was getting 350,000 new cases of polio a year or nearly 1000 cases a day.  You might think that’s nothing compared to our current Covid-19 pandemic.  Well, it affects children almost exclusively and the effects are life-long. 
Then there is the cost factor – a polio-free world will save the global economy US$40-50 billion in health costs within the next 20 years.  And we have a vaccine.  Covid has badly interrupted immunization programs with a spike in case numbers, one more challenge among many which include waring factions and religious beliefs preventing or denying the administration of vaccines.
Polio is a highly infectious disease that most commonly affects children under 5.  It spreads person to person, typically through contaminated water and it attacks the spinal cord and nervous system which may lead to paralysis. 
There is no cure but we do have a vaccine which is safe and effective, which Rotary and its partners are using and have immunized over 2.5 billion children to date.
Why end polio?  WE must stop the transmission of the virus where it remains endemic, and we are now down to 2 countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan.  There are up to 60 countries still rated high-risk where large scale immunization campaigns still operate to provide much needed protection. 
There is no place on earth that is safe until the disease is eradicated everywhere, which is why low immunization rates are recipe for an outbreak.  A country needs to have had no new cases for 3 years before classified as polio-free.
So how do we fund this campaign?  Rotary has already provided over US$2 billion towards the programme set up in 1988.  You may recall that funds for The Rotary Foundation are channelled into one of 3 funds, the Accumulated Fund, or if specified, into the Endowment or Polio funds. 
This year, thanks to Covid, fundraising is even more challenging.  End Polio Now goals have been set, requesting a club donation of US$1,500.  If half our club members became Centurion supporters and specify the Polio Fund then we will meet our target.  For Rotary needs to again raise a minimum of US$50 million this year to qualify for the Gates Foundation 2-for-1 subsidy.
I referred earlier about waring factions.  A story in the latest RDU is worth sharing.  In the 1990’s the Tamil insurgents in Sri Lanka were making the vaccinating programme for 1/3 of the country’s children virtually impossible. 
Rotary stepped in with  UNICEF to engineer a ceasefire, they had to negotiate with one of the world’s most feared and elusive rebel leaders of the day. 
Eventually, the Rotarian negotiator received a letter from the rebel leader, which read, “Dear Mr Ravindran (who was Chair of the Sri Lankan Polio Committee) if you can persuade your government to stop the war for 2 days, then we are willing to lay down our guns for 2 days too, for our war is not with children”.
Soon the NID (national immunization day) was on and vehicles bearing the Rotary emblem were heading for the vaccination booths set up in areas occupied by the insurgents.
This just goes to show that Rotary does have clout on the World stage.  It is essential that we don’t lose sight of the end goal of the programme we help initiate, because if we fall behind now we go back to square one.
Jim urged us to all become a Centurion and help rid the world of this terrible disease.