I spoke about Polio Plus to a sell-out audience at my parents’ retirement home recently. There was not one member of the audience who didn’t have a personal story to share about polio – they all knew a time in America when every summer brought a new outbreak of the disease. And inevitably, they all remember a sibling or cousin or close friend who survived – or succumbed – to the disease.
I told the residents that they had done their job too well. I told them that because of their enthusiastic support for the public health campaigns here in North America that followed rollout of first the Salk and then the Sabin vaccine, that young people today frequently think polio is a disease about as antiquated and as far from their consciousness as, for example, yellow fever or leprosy (both of which are also very much still threats in the developing world).
Age may have brought its own mobility impairment to some in my audience, but all have lived long enough to give humanitarian needs proper value. They get it that parents in Africa and the subcontinent have the same right that they did to know that their children are safe from this crippling disease. They recognize that as long as polio remains endemic anywhere, it is only a plane-ride away from their own grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Total eradication, they understand, is the only answer.
At the end of my talk, I showed these octogenarians how to make the “We’re this close” sign with their thumb and forefinger. And together, I led them in the call. “We’re this close,” we chanted “End Polio Now.”
And then these Greatest Generation elders, most in the last decade of their full lives, asked me what humanitarian mission Rotary would undertake next – after polio is eradicated.
Read more about Marty, including her recent experiences in Bangkok for the 2012 RI Convention on her blog, martyhelman. Learn more about what Rotary is doing to eradicate polio and how you can help End Polio Now.