August-September 2018 | Articles

Why I want to End Polio Now!

Why I want to End Polio Now!

Jannine Birtwistle has a passion – and that passion is Rotary’s fight against polio. The Guernsey-based Rotarian explains her motivation for being at the forefront of the End Polio Now campaign.

I knew polio was infectious, but I didn’t realise wanting to End Polio Now, and to do so forever, was too.

I had known from my first Rotary experience in 1989 as a group study exchange team member visiting Texas, that eradicating polio was a Rotary priority.

Rotary Guernsey raised money for it when I was President in 2006. And as District Polio Officer that year, polio quickly became a passion for me and, luckily, for my husband Paul too!

The more I learnt about this entirely preventable disease, which has absolutely no cure, the more I realised Rotary simply had to finish the job.

Frustrated by the fact that just two End Polio Now branded products were being made available worldwide to support clubs in their awareness and fund-raising activities, I decided that with support from Paul, from Rotary District Governor, Nigel Barnfield, and Rotary Guernsey that I could do something about it.

The End Polio Now Shop Guernsey was born, making its first appearance at our 2009 District Conference with a red-themed stand featuring 14 products which really stood out.

Within six months, we’d been asked to make the products available, both nationally and globally!  New friends who’d heard the polio story provided professional photographs and a website.

The rest is history and the shop is still going strong with #Purple4Polio items now a part of the product range.  All profits go to End Polio Now.

February 2010 was my first National Immunisation Day in India and I’ve now done three more.  My passion has been fuelled by seeing first-hand the commitment of Rotarians who have been on the front line of the campaign since 1985 and meeting polio survivors still crawling in the streets.

It is inspiring to speak with survivors who have been given opportunities to turn their lives around through corrective surgery, callipers or hand bicycle carts.

And it has been eye-opening to meet survivors now suffering with post-polio syndrome, as well as meeting families and communities who have been impacted by the devastating and long-term effects of this life-threatening and paralysing disease.

I am more determined than ever to do everything I can to help Rotary finish the job.

The media love creating headlines!  “Polio outbreak in Venezuela” was an inaccurate, premature and opportunistic news story which did not reflect the World Health Organization’s statement issued about the investigation of acute flaccid paralysis reported in the country.

These headlines were disproved when laboratory test results confirmed the cause was nothing to do with the poliovirus.

The best place for checking facts is the Global Polio Eradication Initiative’s website,, with weekly updates, current news and lots of other user-friendly information.

However, this ‘fake news’ gives all of us in Rotary a warning that we must not take our foot off the pedal, but accelerate our efforts to do everything we can, working together, to wipe polio off the face of the earth.

Rotary clubs, working as a team locally, regionally and nationally, are engaging with and inspiring our local communities, politicians and celebrities to get involved with the Rotary polio story.

The more we demonstrate Rotary in action, the more doors we can open and the more headlines we can create together – and don’t forget to take full advantage of the power of social media.

For every $1 raised, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will give Rotary an additional $2 for the End Polio Now campaign.

Rotary clubs are arranging lots of different #Purple4Polio events on for World Polio Day on October 24, and I would love our readers to get involved.

Many will feature the planting of purple crocus corms, including 20,000 being planted at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, and the purple lighting of many iconic buildings and areas such as Broadgate, in the centre of Coventry.

Food for thought for next year and the week of February 18th, with Rotary Day on February 23rd, when I hope we will see clubs organising meal events ranging from barbecues (in the snow?), tea and a cake, beer and a pie, #Purple4Polio ice cream snacks, to full black tie dinners and more.

We want local communities to join in the fun.


For more ideas, or to get involved in the End Polio Now campaign, contact your local Rotary club or RotaryGBI Polio Champion, Jannine Birtwistle

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