Eradicating polio is the world's obligation
Bruce Aylward, director of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative at the World Health Organization, encouraged Rotarians at the third plenary session on 22 June to fulfill Rotary's promise to eradicate polio worldwide. Photo by Monika Lozinska-Lee/Rotary Images
Rotary’s promise to eradicate polio worldwide took center stage during the 2010 RI Convention in Montréal, Québec, Canada, as Rotarians were urged to finish the task the organization began 25 years ago.
At the third plenary session on 22 June, Bruce Aylward, director of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative at the World Health Organization, encouraged attendees to share the "terrific news" that polio is on the run, and that Rotary’s vision of a polio-free world is within sight.
The night before, on 21 June, polio survivor Ramesh Ferris hand-cycled from the Palais des congrès to Bonsecours Market in Old Montréal for a ceremony that included the landmark’s illumination with En finir avec la polio (End Polio Now). During the second plenary session earlier that day, a soccer ball signed by dignitaries in more than 20 countries as part of the Kick Polio Out of Africa campaign arrived on stage to thunderous applause.
Aylward praised Rotarians for all they have accomplished in fighting polio. "You have fundamentally changed the polio eradication game, and you have changed it in your favor," he said.
But it is critical to finish the job, something made clear by the recent outbreak in Tajikistan, Aylward said, noting that 300 children in the country have been paralyzed by the virus, adults have died, borders have been closed, and travel banned. He said the outbreak is a stark reminder of the consequences of global fatigue in this battle.
"The stakes are now much higher, because in the past 12 months you have proved, without a doubt, that polio can be eradicated," Aylward said. "The world has also learned the full consequences of failure."
Emergency funds from PolioPlus -- a total of US$500,000 -- were released within 48 hours of the Tajikistan outbreak, which is now showing signs of stopping, Aylward said. He also shared the encouraging news of the new bivalent vaccine, effective against both remaining types of the poliovirus, and noted the absence of new cases in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, India, in the past six months.
"Rotarians have done the extraordinary in the pursuit of polio eradication," Aylward said. "You have truly put Service Above Self. And you have truly put Rotary on the world's stage."
At the second plenary session, Marie-Iréne Richmond-Ahoua, chair of the Côte d’Ivoire PolioPlus Committee and a member of the Rotary Club of Abidjan-Bietry, presented RI President John Kenny with the Kick Polio Out of Africa soccer ball to sign.
"Polio eradication is not optional -- it is an obligation," Richmond-Ahoua said. "We must commit to overcoming the remaining obstacles and free Africa, Southeast Asia, and the world from this crippling disease, which ruins the lives of children. As an African woman and mother, I will not tolerate it."
Ferris, a member of the Rotary Club of Whitehorse, Yukon, hand-cycled across Canada in 2008, raising more than C$300,000 (US$294,100) for polio eradication. He was given a police escort 21 June as he cycled to Bonsecours Market with Robert S. Scott, chair of the International PolioPlus Committee, and several young people in the family of Rotary.