Welcoming Bill Gates to the Atlanta Convention in a hall that was bursting to capacity, RI President John Germ said that Rotary’s fight against polio began when “every single year 350,000 children were crippled by it. We knew it didn’t have to be like this and we knew we could change it. Year by year, as polio has been driven out by every country, one by one, Rotarians have continued to advocate and work and we have raised $1.6 billion to fight polio and immunised a billion children.”
To thunderous applause, Germ said: “As a result of our work, polio cases have come down from 350,000 a year then (30 years ago) to only five in all of 2017.”
He added, “From the beginning we knew eradicating polio would have to be a team effort. An effort in partnership with the nations of the world and organisations committed to their health. That’s how the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) came into being. We have a tremendous partnership between Rotary, WHO, United Nations, CDC and UNICEF.”
The great Bill Gates challenge
In 2007 the GPEI gained a fifth partner — the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. And this Foundation gave Rotary a challenge — if it could raise $100 million, they would match it. “We accepted that challenge and surpassed that goal. Two years later, they pledged $155 million, if we could raise an additional $100 million. We said we’ll do that and we did it,” said Germ, bringing the house down!
Right now, every time a new case is identified, it really could be the last one the world ever sees.
— RI President John Germ
Then, the RI President added, in 2013, the Gates Foundation gave a new challenge… it would match every dollar that Rotary raised with two dollars, upto $35 million every year until 2018. “We knew a good deal when we saw one, and said ‘Yes’. That commitment to meet every challenge that was raised has brought us to where we are today. Right now, every time a new case is identified, it really could be the last one the world ever sees.”
And that would bring it to zero cases; but till then Rotarians will have to keep up their efforts — at least for three years, before the world can be declared polio-free.
“Right now we face a funding gap of $1.5 billion to reach the end. But we are going to rise up to this challenge as we’ve done with so many challenges before,” Germ said, adding that he was confident that Rotary would raise $50 million a year for the next three years, towards this goal.
By the time the session ended, a whopping $1.2 billion had been pledged — $300 million by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, $75 million by the Canadian government, $51 million by the European Commission, and additional pledges by Japan, Germany and other philanthropies.