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End of polio shows how you can translate belief into action

Evangelism isn’t easy, but somebody’s got to do it. As the good book says, faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen and that’s why our preachers occupy the highest hills, the city gates or TV channels with top viewer ratings, and from the pulpit remind the congregation that God is watching.

The same goes for polio eradication and Rotary’s evangelical role aimed at getting the world to sing from the same hymn sheet. The biggest funds are raised from countries that haven’t seen polio for decades and the sustained global advocacy is necessary to keep the faith and the continuous commitment to wiping the disease from the face of the earth.

October 24 is World Polio Day when we celebrate the birthday of the Jonas Salk the inventor of the polio vaccine and reaffirm our commitment to ending polio. Rotary Clubs around the world find creative ways to demonstrate this including hosing fundraisers, running public activities to raise awareness or organizing seminars that address the progress we are making in the fight against the disease.

Since 1988 when the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) was formed a total of US $16 billion has been raised and Rotary’s contribution has been over US $1.8 billion. Rotarians have committed to raising at least US $50 million every year in the final push as the world focuses on the three remaining endemic countries namely Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Like I said, evangelism isn’t easy, so let’s take a brief look back in history to understand how all this began. In the 1970s a Rotarian in the Philippines had a strong belief that it was possible to eradicate polio based on scientific data and the success of eradicating Small Pox, the first disease to be eradicated in human history. This Rotarian went to his Rotary Club and told them that he was going to bring polio to an end and asked them whether they would join him on the journey.

The club agreed and after a while they approached the other clubs in the Philippines and told them that they intended to eradicate polio and asked whether they would join them in this initiative. Thereafter the Philippines Rotarians told the Rotarians in Haiti, Bolivia, Morocco, Sierra Leone and Cambodia that they were going to eradicate polio and asked these countries to make their first 5 year commitment towards this, which they agreed.

It was after this that the 6 countries told Rotary International that they would end polio and asked the global association of Rotary Clubs whether they were prepared to walk with them in this effort, to which they said yes. In 1985 Rotary International appointed the first Polio Committee and pledged US $120 million that year to fund the initiative.

Rotary International then told the UN, CDC and WHO that they were going to bring polio down and asked the global development agency whether they would join them to complete the task, and so the GPEI was born.

It all started with a strong belief that this was possible and that vision continues to drive us as we embark on the last leg of the journey. It’s easy to become part of this history and anyone can make a donation of any size to the GPEI efforts by going to www.endpolionow.organd clicking on ‘donate’.

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