By John Hewko, Rotary International General Secretary
Beginning 23 June, Rotary will join 37 NGOs, non-profits, philanthropies and businesses in supporting the 5th Birthday and Beyond celebration that recognizes the leading role the U.S. government plays in improving children’s health worldwide.
And believe me, there is much to celebrate, especially the incredible improvement in childhood mortality rates over the past quarter century. Experts tell us that in 2014, six million fewer children will die before their fifth birthday than was the case 25 years ago.
U.S foreign assistance has been extremely important in achieving these results. We at Rotary very much appreciate the U.S. government’s generous support of our top priority as an organization: to protect the world’s children by eradicating the crippling disease polio.
In 1985 Rotary International took on the challenge of wiping polio from the face of the earth. In 1988 we were joined by the World Health Organization, UNICEF and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to launch the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. To date, the United States has been the most generous donor country to the initiative with total contributions of more than $2.4 billion.
In May, Rotary hosted our annual reception honoring individual members of Congress for their support of polio eradication. To date, 45 members of the 113th Congress have been recognized as Polio Eradication Champions, including this year’s honorees, U.S. Sens. John Boozman of Arkansas; Chris Coons of Delaware; Barbara Mikulski of Maryland; and Jerry Moran, of Kansas; and U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington.
Our champions represent both sides of the aisle (Republican and Democrat) because children’s health transcends political ideologies.
When we advocate on behalf of polio eradication, we emphasize to our elected officials how effective our efforts have been and why it is so vitally important to finish the job now and make polio only the second human disease to be totally eliminated (smallpox was the first).
Our ambitious public-private partnership, which now includes the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has reached more than two billion children under age five with the oral polio vaccine, preventing more than 10 million cases of paralysis.
Since we began, polio cases have plummeted by more than 99 percent, from about 350,000 cases per year to fewer than 420 in 2013. Today, polio remains endemic to only three countries: Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan, although cases will continue to occur elsewhere until the wild poliovirus is stopped for good.
We also make clear to our elected leaders that we do not expect national governments alone to pay the freight. Rotary members worldwide have contributed more than $1.2 billion and countless volunteer hours to polio eradication. Currently, the Gates Foundation is matching two-to-one every dollar Rotary contributes to polio eradication up to $35 million a year through 2018.
Our goal is to halt the transmission of polio worldwide by 2018. With the continued support of the United States and other national governments, our partnering organizations, philanthropies, and businesses, we can – and we will — End Polio Now. Please visit our End Polio Now site to learn how to participate in this historic endeavor.
Let’s make sure that every child in the world celebrates his or her fifth birthday protected for life against polio.