By Megan Ferringer, RI Editorial staff
On 17 January, district governors-elect filled the plenary hall at the International Assembly in San Diego, California, USA, and anxiously awaited an announcement on Rotary’s progress to eradicate polio.
.The lights dimmed and a map was revealed. This showed a 99 percent decrease in polio cases throughout the world and that Rotary’s battle to wipe out the disease had reached a historic turning point.
“Looking forward, we will live in a polio-free world. We have got to the critical turning point we had to to be sure we could finish the job,” Dr. Bruce Aylward of the World Health Organization said to the audience. “But we can’t finish the job without Rotarians and Rotarian leadership out in front, leading the way to a polio-free world.”
Rotary Foundation Trustee John Germ soon came on stage to make the announcement everyone was waiting for: Rotarians had not only helped reach the US$200 Million Challenge, they had succeeded in surpassing it. The room immediately erupted in applause and cheers. Incoming district governors shook each other’s hands in congratulations for such an accomplishment.
But the afternoon’s biggest reaction came when CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Jeff Raikes announced they would be donating an additional $50 million to help Rotary conquer the last one percent of polio cases in the world.
“Rotary’s work has been incredible. But it hasn’t been enough to tip the balance in this fight…yet,” Raikes said. “That’s why I’m asking each of you, today, to personally commit to doing everything within your power to finish this important work.”
Rotarians left the room that afternoon filled with both a sense of excitement and urgency. With the resources in line and a key ally by their side, they knew that the last step to wipe out polio for good was up to them. And each one looked ready to take on that challenge.