Rotarians celebrate milestones in the fight to rid the world of polio
Top: Bruce Aylward tells Rotarians India's removal from the polio-endemic list is a magnificent Rotary achievement. Bottom: Former Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholar John Skerritt accepts the Global Alumni Service to Humanity Award. Rotary Images/Alyce Henson
Rotarians Tuesday celebrated two major milestones in the organization’s decades-long fight to rid the world of polio.
During the third plenary session of the 2012 RI Convention in Bangkok, Thailand, which was also made available through a live webcast, Rotarians were congratulated for meeting and exceeding Rotary’s US$200 Million Challenge, Rotary's response to $355 million in matching grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for polio eradication efforts. Attendees also celebrated India’s removal from the polio-endemic list in February, which leaves only three countries where transmission of the virus has never been stopped.
But speakers reminded the festive assembly that the work is far from complete, because the ultimate goal has not been reached.
“We know that we haven’t reached our goal. We haven’t ended polio,” said John F. Germ, chair of Rotary’s US$200 Million Challenge Committee. “Our clubs are still planning polio fundraisers for the coming years and encouraging donations from people in their communities.”
Germ announced that, as of 4 May, Rotarians and supporters have raised $215.7 million for the challenge, which runs through June. But with the Global Polio Eradication Initiative facing a significant funding shortfall for 2012 and beyond, it is vital for clubs and districts to keep pushing forward with their many creative fundraisers. (Download Germ's speech or watch a video of the third plenary)
Public health emergency
Bruce Aylward, assistant director-general for polio, emergencies and country collaboration for the World Health Organization, said India’s removal from the polio-endemic list is “perhaps the most important milestone ever on the long road to eradication.”
“It’s a magnificent achievement. And it is a Rotary achievement,” he said. “Today, Rotary’s vision of a polio-free world is much closer to reality.”
But an upsurge in cases of paralysis from polio in Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan and recent polio outbreaks in China, the Congo, and Tajikistan have also prompted what he called an “unprecedented push” to finally end the disease. He said 192 ministers of health will meet next week and declare polio a public health emergency.
“The world understands the full consequences of failure,” he said. “We must be faster, we must be more focused and each one of us must be fully accountable.”
Indian philanthropist Rajashree Birla, who has given more than $4.2 million to the Foundation for polio eradication, said she has been “overwhelmed with Rotary’s polio efforts.”
Birla’s late husband, Aditya, built the family business into one of India’s largest. Today, Birla and her son, Kumar Mangalam, head the Aditya Birla Group, a Fortune 500 company.
Birla stressed the need for business accountability and community service. Her Giving to Living campaign encourages corporations to “embed giving into their DNA.”
“When a corporation pushes its energies and helps resolve social sector issues through engagement, it indirectly stimulates its own business development,” said Birla. “There is much to be gained when business leaders take giving to heart, and set the mandate of making a difference by caring for people in their community.”
Service to Humanity award
Former Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholar John Skerritt was presented with the 2011-12 Global Alumni Service to Humanity Award by Rotary Foundation Trustee Chair William B. Boyd.
“Just as Rotary Fellowships help build international understanding, I had the privilege of leading a program of postgraduate training for over 300 agricultural scientists from 18 developing countries to assist in building the next generation of thinkers and leaders,” said Skerritt. Read more.
In his keynote address, Boyd noted the difference The Rotary Foundation makes in lives daily.
“When a group calling themselves Rotarians comes to a village and asks what are the most pressing needs that can be worked through together and the answer is water, you can understand the opportunity that this gives the woman who spends three hours each day walking with her teenage daughter to collect dirty water as that is the only supply available,” he said.
“A water supply to her village will give her time to grow food, will enable her daughter to be educated, her other children will not be constantly sick, and maybe she can get a microcredit loan and start a small business. What a difference that day will bring.” Download Boyd’s speech
Amanda Martin, an alumna of the Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, thanked Rotary for the opportunity to broaden her skills. She said her work as a public health coordinator and teacher in a refugee camp on the border of Thailand and Myanmar is “inspiring and fulfilling.”
“Rotary has already made a dramatic difference in my life and is having a profound ripple effect, radiating from me to my students and onto the impoverished populations that they will serve as public health workers,” said Martin.
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