By Steve Crane, a member of the Rotary Club of Seattle, Washington, USA, and a polio survivor. Crane has been appointed district polio eradication advocacy chair by successive governors in District 5030.
Rotary members are being asked if recent headlines mean there is some doubt about ending polio for good. Our answer is that the end of polio in India is the headline to remember.
We are at the heart of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), a partnership of Rotary International, the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and many national governments. Rotary has contributed $1.3 billion to the GPEI through PolioPlus. And it is committed to adding up to $105 million per year over the next four years through the End Polio Now: Make History Today campaign.
Rotary’s commitment to eradicating polio is much larger than $1.3 billion. Our 1.2 million members volunteer countless hours to participate in every facet of the work required. We are engaged in the GPEI’s strategic planning and management by facilitating critical cooperation among international and national government partners. Our consultations with global health leaders help develop the new ideas and course corrections needed.
Rotarians are effective advocates as local and national business leaders and as political constituents, working with our partners to break through the toughest barriers blocking eradication. And our advocacy has helped secure more than $9 billion from donor governments for the GPEI.
Our dedicated volunteers make it possible to conduct successful National Immunization Days (NIDs) in the polio-endemic countries — Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan — and all those affected by the disease. It was Rotary advocacy that made NID’s central to the global eradication strategy. That has helped decrease the number of polio cases worldwide by 99.9 percent. Until we reach 100 percent, however, outbreaks are inevitable. When they occur, Rotarians are among the first to respond.
Outbreaks stem from wild poliovirus people carry from one of the three remaining endemic countries. In each country, Rotarian expertise and counsel are fully at work. When, for example, GPS and GIS technologies were adapted for the Nigeria campaign, the Nigeria National PolioPlus Committee weighed in on the course corrections needed to fill the immunization gaps. As a result, polio cases in Nigeria are almost gone.
The toughest headlines are coming from Pakistan. Violence is killing vaccinators and cases are increasing in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. In response, new security measures are being taken to protect vaccinators. A polio eradication Emergency Operations Centre was established in Karachi in July.
The Pakistan National PolioPlus Committee, chaired by Aziz Memon, has over 30 members working at every level of government to make the country polio free. It was their counterparts on the India National PolioPlus Committee who helped ensure the success of the campaign there.
Every Rotarian has a role as a polio eradication advocate. You are needed to convince your elected leaders that our competence, energy, and determination are behind their polio eradication funding as well as ours. Write or call to tell them all the ways eradication has Rotary’s steadfast support and how much we need theirs.
Dr. Bruce Aylward, who leads WHO’s polio eradication work, has declared Rotary’s voice “the most powerful weapon we have in the war against polio.” Be confident that Rotarians won’t rest until polio is stopped, and be sure your Rotary voice is heard.