I’ve had a unique opportunity to be a part of the polio eradication campaign from its very beginnings, more than a quarter century ago, to where we are now, which is truly “this close” to the end.
None of us knew back then how long eradication would take, or how many obstacles we’d meet along the way. I’m not sure how we would have felt about taking on the challenge if we had known. But there is one thing I know for sure: that every single day of the last 29 years has been worth it. Because over those years, we have saved millions of children from being paralyzed by polio. There’s no way to put a price tag on that. And today, we are closer than ever to a world in which no child will be paralyzed, ever again.
It’s been a long race to the finish line. That line is now in sight. But we’ll only cross it if we keep moving forward. And the only way to do that is with the help of every single Rotarian, everywhere in the world.
The first thing we need is your voice, and your advocacy. Think ahead to World Polio Day, on 24 October: What can your club and district do to raise awareness? Write letters to your elected officials, hold a purple pinkie fundraiser, plan an event with a local school. If you or someone you know has a story to tell about polio, share it at www.endpolionow.org/stories. The most important thing is to keep the momentum going. Let your community, and the world, know that the fight against polio is at its most critical stage yet.
I’m glad to report that the End Polio Now – Make History Today campaign is going well. Rotary met the terms of the new agreement with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and received US$70 million in matching funds in January, which will be fully committed in this calendar year. We have four more years of this agreement remaining, during which the Gates Foundation will match two-to-one every dollar Rotary spends on polio, to a maximum of $35 million per year. I encourage all of you to do what you can to help us make the most of this opportunity. I know that together, we can engage Rotary to end polio – and change the world, forever.
We have seen that when Rotarians are motivated, they will rise to a challenge. Not long ago, we reached the US$200 million milestone through Rotary’s Challenge for polio eradication, in response to grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. We not only met our goal but exceeded it, raising $228.7 million.
Now we have a new opportunity. The Gates Foundation has agreed to match, two-to-one, every dollar that Rotary spends on polio eradication over the next five years, up to $35 million per year. But before we spend this money, we will have to raise it.
The decision to accept this offer was not made lightly. We know that we have already asked Rotarians for a great deal, and they have been so generous already.
We are “this close” to interrupting transmission of the wild poliovirus worldwide. This is an incredible achievement, but we still have much work to do to make a polio-free world a reality.
For decades, we have been working to get the number of polio cases down, year by year. Every year that had fewer cases of polio than the one before was a good year. But now we are in a new stage – the final battle of our war against polio. Now there is no such thing as “good enough.” There cannot be a single case of polio left anywhere in the world.
This means that every outbreak, however small, must be met with a massive response. We can do this only if we have the resources. And that is why we cannot wait to raise this money – to End Polio Now and make history today.