In August, I was proud to visit Pakistan and highlight Rotary’s top goal, eradicating polio. It was also a tremendous opportunity to spotlight female health workers who are playing a critical role in protecting children from this vaccine-preventable disease.
This month, as we celebrate World Polio Day, we are shining a spotlight on our more than 30-year effort to lead the first global polio eradication campaign and our success in forming partnerships capable of completing this massive goal. We all know that this is one of the most ambitious global health initiatives in history and that we’ve reduced polio cases by more than 99.9 per cent worldwide.
Pakistan is one of only two countries in the world where wild poliovirus remains endemic. (The other is neighbouring Afghanistan.) I was able to witness and take part in vaccination campaigns in Pakistan, and soon after I left, a monumental nationwide immunisation campaign took place, focused on 43 million children under the age of 5. I saw the incredible work of Rotary members on the ground. More than 60 per cent of vaccinators in Pakistan are women, and they are doing a remarkable job building trust and convincing mothers to vaccinate their children.
Seeing it all firsthand, I know that the will exists across the Rotary world to end polio, and I’m confident that we have the strategy. The Pakistani media has been very supportive of our efforts as well, and this is making a difference. This month, a new global pledging moment at the World Health Summit in Berlin promises to pull together more resources to fund these time-sensitive eradication efforts. Now it is up to us to do our part and raise $50 million this year to earn the full 2-to-1 match from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
What I saw in Pakistan convinced me that we can and must finish the job, but it will only happen if we remain committed to a strategy that’s working and back it with all necessary resources.
There’s great cause for optimism on the polio front — but also some staggering new events that have further raised the stakes. Over the past few months, new polio outbreaks have occurred in Israel, the United Kingdom and, most recently, in the New York City area. These stories are frightening, but in every case, the response is clear — vaccines work, and if polio is spreading, we need to make sure the most at-risk people have kept their vaccinations up to date.
Most importantly, we need to eradicate this virus now. If polio exists anywhere, it can spread everywhere. What I saw in Pakistan convinced me that we can and must finish the job, but it will only happen if we remain committed to a strategy that’s working and back it with all necessary resources.
Through our commitment, generosity and sheer determination, we will #EndPolio.
President, Rotary International