The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
An extract from Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”
We in Western Europe have been free of polio for so long that it is only the more mature among us who recall the anxiety the disease engendered in parents; who recall schoolmates in calipers; who recall the pictures of people trapped in iron lungs.
But 30 years ago, polio remained endemic in much of the world, with around 350,000 new cases every year. It was Rotary’s leadership and persistence which persuaded the World Health Assembly to adopt the goal of eradicating polio.
Since then, many billions of dollars have been spent by Rotary, by national governments and by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation so that today polio remains endemic in only two countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Rotarians have taken the fight to the endemic countries in National Immunisation Days by personally administering the vaccine to millions of children. India has been polio-free since 2011; in August the World Health Organization’s Africa Region was declared wild polio-free.
But so much more has been achieved.
Public health infrastructure has been strengthened in many developing countries; disease surveillance systems have been established which have proved invaluable in the face of outbreaks such as Ebola and COVID-19.
Solutions have been found to the practical and logistical difficulties in reaching remote communities.
The fight must go on; if we do not finish the job, polio will come back. We must not forget our promise to the children of the world.
Because of COVID-19, vaccination programmes were paused, but they are now restarting. Moreover, if we have learned anything from COVID-19, it is that the world is smaller than ever before; polio in Asia is our problem, too.
The fight must go on; if we do not finish the job, polio will come back. We must not forget our promise to the children of the world.”
The work of surveillance and of reaching remote communities goes on and needs to be funded.
So I encourage all Rotarians, and those reading this article who are not (yet) Rotarians, to remember the children of the world and give to polio eradication.
Even in these socially-distanced days we can raise funds. For example, take the ‘1240 Challenge’ – the Pakistan/Afghanistan border is 1240 miles. Get sponsorship to do 1240 things or reach 1240 in some scored venture.
We have promises to keep, and miles to go before we sleep.