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The importance of advocacy in eradicating polio

Most people claim that they want their names to be recorded in the Book of Life. However, many who seek power seem to be happy if their names only appeared in the history books. Then there are those who fight over tea bills in Nairobi’s finest hotels — and all they want is their 15 minutes of fame.

There is a price to pay for all of these, and its not those that were customarily offered to the Church before the Enlightenment, which included money, expensive gifts and vast property. No, in this day and age the conscientious will purchase tickets to heaven, greatness or fame by pursuing big, hairy and audacious goals, making scientific discoveries, inventing Facebook, or simply through acts of kindness.

When Rotary and the GPEI (Global Polio Eradication Initiative) partners eradicate polio, not only will we secure our place in history but we will have saved the lives of billions of children around the world. In 1985 when we launched the PolioPlus initiative, we didn’t realize that communication would be a major component of the job.

It took guts to declare such an ambitious target, and a high level of commitment from individual Rotarians who went out to the ends of the earth on immunization tours to reach the most neglected communities. These actions were the basis for the initial advocacy that led to brining the GPEI partners to the table in 1988 in order to create the force that would end polio.

PR guru and Rotarian Lawrence Gikaru of Apex Porter Novelli says that public relations is all about good behavior and communicating that good behavior to the world. Indeed it was when the likes of Bill Gates understood the passion by which we took to the task that he chose to support the cause.

Over US$ 8.9 billion (Ksh. 925.6 billion) has been raised to date, which has helped to immunize 2.5 billion children in 122 countries around the world, reducing the rate of infection by 99.9%. The results are amazing but getting here was not easy.

For instance, once the developed nations had eradicated the disease within their borders it became an uphill battle to convince them that they needed to continue to fund the initiative for global eradication. Rotary therefore established World Polio Day on the 24th of October over a decade ago to raise awareness by commemorating the birth of Jonas Salk, the inventor of the polio vaccine.

On that day Rotary Clubs around the world organize public events in such places as the New York Stock Exchange, the Colosseum in Rome, the Sydney Opera House and the Pyramids in Egypt. Initially these events were to focus the worlds attention on the need to end polio, though this has evolved over time to emphasize the importance of sustaining the efforts in the final push.

The biggest frustration of project management is that projects tend to be 99% complete 99% of the time, and for ending polio the statistics are not very different. We need all hands on deck and every dollar we can raise to free the world of this deadly disease and to keep our children safe from it.

We look forward to the day that we make history and tell our children that “we did it; we eradicated the disease.”

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