By Ann Lee Hussey, a member of the Rotary Club of Portland Sunrise, Maine, USA
Polio can affect children anywhere. The poliovirus doesn’t discriminate based on geography, skin color, or religion. If we don’t eradicate polio now, the world could see cases rebound to 200,000 new cases every year, within 10 years.
I’ve participated in 27 immunization campaigns, leading 23, throughout Africa and Asia, not because I’m a polio survivor, but because I believe polio eradication will be one of our greatest gifts to future generations.
People sometimes talk about how much money we can save if we eradicate polio. It’s reported that we could save $40 billion to $50 billion over the next 20 years if we eradicate the disease soon, and the economic impact on families and communities that are affected by polio is staggering.
During my first trip to Nigeria in 2008, I immunized children in very rural areas. We walked through millet fields, down dirt roads, and across fields with grazing cows to reach clusters of homes. During a visit to one village, I met Uma, who was 11 at the time. Uma had never been to school. As a polio victim, she only had the ability to walk on all fours and the closest school was miles away from her community.
Uma moved me. Her story motivated me to help this community. My fellow health workers told me that I had a unique opportunity to speak with the state governor and request that the village be granted a school. I developed a relationship with the state governor and we began talks about building a school.
“If we invest the additional $1.5 billion needed to eradicate polio, we’ll not only save dollars, we’ll save countless lives and prevent children from suffering from this completely preventable disease.”
After a few more visits, my friend and local Rotary leader Saliu Ahmed and I suggested the village members set up a temporary school to show the governor why they needed funding. When I returned 10 months later, the village had built a small school, made with mud walls and a thatched roof. This effort proved to the state governor the need for the school. The governor told me, “on your next visit, you will have a new school and when you return, we’ll talk about something else.”
The new school was a larger, cement block building. We provided Uma a wheelchair so she could attend school more easily.
Catalyst for change
I’m impressed with how a simple trip meant for immunization was a catalyst for so many other developments. After I met Uma, we built a school, a public toilet, two wells with solar panel pumps, and a bridge providing year-round access to surrounding communities. Uma’s village became the gathering point for nearby settlements.
My story about Uma and her village is not the only one of its kind. When immunizing, Rotarians see other needs and reach out to help. I find that the infrastructure put in place to vaccinate children against polio provides the foundation to improve other conditions in communities and countries.
If we invest the additional $1.5 billion needed to eradicate polio, we’ll not only save dollars, we’ll save countless lives and prevent children from suffering from this completely preventable disease. Rotary members began this journey and we need to press on to the journey’s end.
Learn how you can help us end polio now