How ironic, on the day the UK government pledged £100 million to the global fight against polio that Brazilian footballer Neymar became the world’s most expensive footballer – signed for a princely £200 million by Paris Saint-Germain.
However in Rotary circles on these shores, the August announcement by International Development Secretary, Priti Patel, was greeted with considerable jubilation.
“This huge pledge from the UK government helps close the funding gap to a point where the end is now truly affordable and in our grasp,” declared Rotary President for Great Britain and Ireland, Denis Spiller.
“Polio will very soon be confined to the history books.”
And from the world of sport, Paralympian Ade Adepitan, who Rotarians took to their hearts when he spoke at the Manchester conference last April, insisted: “We can see the finish line – and we can’t stop now.”
Polio will very soon be confined to the history books.”
He added: “The UK has always been a world leader. It can be part of our legacy to be at the forefront of the race to eradicate polio around the world.
“Let’s keep doing what we are doing and make the world a better place for future generations.
“We are so close to eradicating polio. We need just one last push to make this disease history and change the world.”
Philanthropist Bill Gates, whose Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been a game-changer in the campaign, matching every Rotary dollar raised by two-to-one, was unsurprisingly delighted with the news from across the Atlantic.
He said: “It’s fantastic to see such a generous pledge from the UK to the global effort to eradicate polio. With the steadfast commitment of key partners like the UK government and dedicated health care workers around the world, we are very close to ending polio forever.”
Of course, the reality is that Rotary won’t see any of that money, and the UK government’s contribution won’t be considered as part of the Rotary in Great Britain and Ireland’s tab. Instead, this impressive, multi-million pound commitment will be channelled through the World Health Organization as part of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.
But domestically, this was a big call from a government department which is facing the same massive fiscal pressures as the rest of cash-strapped Whitehall.
A huge thank you
Both Priti Patel, in interviews, and the UK Department for International Development with their social media messaging at the time of the announcement, were keen pay tribute to Rotary’s lead internationally in the battle to wipe out polio.
“A huge thank you to Rotarians in the UK and across the world for their generosity and unwavering support in the effort to #EndPolio” said one social media post for Ms Patel’s department.
Rotarians in Great Britain and Ireland have already contributed £30 million ($37 million) and pledged to support a global fundraising goal of $50 million annually over the next three years.
The important point is that in terms of boosting Rotary’s domestic profile and providing a fillip to the End Polio Now campaign, the timing was very good.
Only two months ago, during Rotary International’s Convention in Atlanta, global leaders recommitted to the importance of a polio-free world, and pledged financial support, totalling US$1.2 billion against the additional US$1.5 billion needed to finally eradicate polio.
So the summer announcement also offered a platform for Priti Patel to remind the rest of the world about their responsibilities, with a gaping £128 million funding hole if the global goal is to be achieved by 2020.
“Now it is time for others to step up, follow Britain’s lead and make polio history,” she insisted, pointing out how the British government has spent £300 million on the debilitating disease since 2013.
“Polio has no place in the 21st century. This devastating and highly infectious disease causes painful paralysis and is incurable – trapping the world’s poorest people in a cycle of grinding poverty.
“The world is closer than it ever has been to eradicating polio for good, but as long as just one case exists in the world, children everywhere are still at risk.”