As part of the Global Poverty Project’s commitment to ending polio, we are honoured to be working with Rotary International. Rotary was the first organisation who dared to take on the challenge of making a world without polio a reality and, since 1985, they have spearheaded efforts to vaccinate children across the developing world so that polio becomes as forgotten there as it is in developed countries. Since Rotary took the lead in ending polio, cases have been reduced by 99% - from more than 350,000 in 1988 to 650 in 2011 - and the number of polio-endemic countries has been reduced from 125 to just three (Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria).
Rotary’s motto of “service above self” is a powerful and inspirational one. It is a motto that has inspired Rotarians to raise over US$1 billion to end polio, to work with the World Health Organization, UNICEF and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in leading the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) and to ask, not if we can end polio, but when.
On the 25th of May, 2012, the World Health Assembly declared polio an emergency for global public health, calling upon its 194 member states to fully fund the GPEI. The UK has been one of the leading countries spearheading the charge to eradicate polio. In January of last year, the Prime Minister announced a doubling of the UK's support to the GPEI, to help reach over 90 million children in 2011-2012. However, the measures needed to eradicate polio for good are expensive and the GPEI needs at least $240m by January 2013 just to continue operating. Indeed, the GPEI is facing an almost $1 billion funding gap over the next two years, meaning that it is having to scale back and stop vital vaccination programmes for children.
Now that we’re so close to eradicating polio, the time has come, not to falter or pause, but to continue to act. Indeed, Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization, says:
"We have a window of opportunity now, with cases at an all time low. But if there is polio anywhere we are at risk of polio everywhere. Only eradication will ensure that polio does not re-emerge as a global threat."
As part of the Global Poverty Project’s The End of Polio campaign, we have been presenting at Rotary clubs across the UK. The passion with which the Chairman of Aberdeen Rotary club, John Milne, spoke about his concerns that the last sufferers of polio will be forgotten summed up Rotary’s commitment. Just like the Global Poverty Project, Rotary sees the final 1% as the most important. Both organisations believe that no child should face a lifetime of disability from a disease we know how to prevent, simply because of where they are born. Inspired by the commitment of Rotarians to ending polio, and their steadfast belief that a polio-free world is possible, the Global Poverty Project will continue to campaign alongside Rotary until the dream of a polio-free world has been realised.