Reading the story of Judith Shaw Beatty gravely saddened me. She is a polio survivor in the United States of America who contracted the disease in 1949 when she was only six years old. This irreparably altered the course of her life and sent her down one of the darkest and lonely places a human being, let alone a child, could go. At the time there was no vaccine for polio and doctors knew little about the disease, and that’s why she was kept in isolation for over six months after she was infected by the virus.
Even her parents were not allowed to get close to her when she was enclosed in the archaic ‘iron lung’ apparatus, which was contained in a room where a netting was strung across the door to restrict access. When her parents visited, they would throw toys over the netting hoping they would land on her bed. Beyond her personal pain, her family were also treated like lepers when the government put a sign in front of their home indicating that a member of the household had been infected. From then on, neighbours and friends would change direction whenever they saw them walking down the street.
42,000 cases of polio were reported in the US in that year alone with 2,720 of them losing their lives, and it was during the course of Judith’s treatment that the polio vaccine developed by Dr. Jonas Salk was declared safe and effective. There are moments in time when the actions of one man can shape the future or the world, and I doubt that Dr. Salk knew that his discovery was going to start the sequence of events leading up to the eradication of the second disease in human history.
Jonas must have taken time, worked hard and applied his knowledge to make complex thing simple, which is the ultimate element of wisdom, and this is what the polio eradication campaign has come to rest on. Two drops of the polio vaccine administered to children under the age of five will protect them from this dreadful disease; its that simple. Over the years Rotarians and the Global Polio Eradication Initiative partners have spent countless hours distributing and administering the vaccine to a point where 350,000 million children have been successfully reached. Lives have been saved and future livelihoods secured.
The US was eventually declared polio free in 1979 and for innocent children like Judith, it brought to the end an era of suffering and death caused by the debilitating disease. The significance of this went beyond their borders because in the same year Rotary launched its first multi-year project to immunize six million children in the Philippines, marking the start of the polio eradication activities that transitioned into the PolioPlus programme.
Judith Shaw Beatty’s story is one of the reasons I am convinced that we will see a polio free world within a few years, and that our children will be forever safe from the disease. Until now Rotary and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have raised over $1.9 billion towards the Global Polio Eradication Initiative and we have come from 125 endemic countries at the start of the campaign to only three in 2018; from 350,000 new cases per year to 33 new cases last year.
The end truly is in sight, but if we fail to do this now and stop funding the initiative, within 10 years we could go up to 200,000 new cases of polio per year according to WHO. We would lose our children, many will get paralyzed and numerous livelihoods will be destroyed.
Africa is still under the threat of polio mainly due to the insufficient immunization coverage and therefore the eradication campaign benefits us the most. That is why we have launched the $1 million for the Polio Endgame, which aims to raise funds from citizens of the countries that make up our district – Kenya, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Eritrea. Through this campaign we aim to create one million heroes to fight against polio who donate only $1 each to the cause. Each dollar will be receive a combined match by The Rotary Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation increasing its value by six, bringing our total contribution to $6 million, which will immunize over 18 million children against polio.
Make your donation today of $1 or more through Safaricom Paybill number 891300 and the account number ‘polio’ and play a part in the making of history as we take a stand and eradicate the second disease in our history, after the elimination of Small Pox. Once you’ve done this share it with your friends and introduce them to the Polio Endgame Challenge.