Speaking at the Rotary Presidential Peacebuilding Conference in Coventry, the Minister of State for both International Development and Africa, praised the stand which Rotary has taken for 30 years in its bid to totally wipe out the disease.
In a Wall Street Journal editorial in 2005, marking the 50th anniversary of the Salk polio vaccine, poliomyelitis, the influential newspaper stated: “Rotary’s unsung polio effort deserves the Nobel Peace Prize.”
Now, speaking at the Ricoh Arena in front of 500 Rotarians drawn from 14 countries, Mrs Baldwin echoed that call.
She said: “Rotarians you have been truly polio superstars. Your efforts do definitely deserve the Nobel Peace Prize.”
And the Minister added: “I want to say thank you Rotarians that humanity is on the cusp of eradicating polio.
“We should take great comfort from the fact that little over 30 years ago there were 350,000 cases in over 100 countries and yet in 2017 there were just 22, proof that, working together, aid really has an impact.”
Mrs Baldwin pointed out that the UK has been the second largest sovereign donor to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.
Polio eradication demonstrates how effective international organisations can be when they all come together with a common purpose and a common vision”
Last summer, the UK Government gave £100 million to the initiative to vaccinate 45 million children each year until 2020. Since 1988, the UK has donated £1.3 billion to the fund.
“Polio eradication demonstrates how effective international organisations can be when they all come together with a common purpose and a common vision,” she added.
“Thanks to UK aid, there are more than 16 million people walking today who would otherwise have been paralysed. And the UK is leading the final push to eliminate the disease.
“We are on the verge of one of the greatest public health stories of all time. The world is so close to being rid of polio that we must renew our efforts to ensure that 2018 is the year when the disease is consigned to history.”
Earlier, Dr Ranieri Guerra, Assistant Director-General for Special Initiatives with the World Health Organization, described Rotary as “a fundamental partner and a key player” in their efforts to tackle polio.
He reported that there are currently just three polio hotspots worldwide; Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan with just 22 cases reported in 2017 – a 99% reduction since 1988. “Remember, this is an eradication programme, not containment. Ninety-nine per cent is not good enough,” Dr Guerra told delegates.
“Polio is currently at the lowest level in history with fewer cases reported from fewer countries than ever before. The world now has the best opportunity to eradicate polio once and for all, and for all future generations to come.”
The day-long conference, with the theme of disease prevention and treatment, was hosted by Rotary International President, Ian Riseley, and featured a wide range of speakers, including the Iranian Nobel Peace Laureate, Shirin Ebadi as well as Peace Fellows Natalia Gutiérrez and Jessica Tissell.
Polio is currently at the lowest level in history with fewer cases reported from fewer countries than ever before!”
Coventry is the third of six Presidential Peace Conferences. RI President, Ian Riseley, explained that the idea was to explore the connections between Rotary’s five areas of focus and peace.
He said: “In Rotary there is no hard and fast line between the various areas of focus. Work done in one area often brings benefits in another.
“A project that puts clean water and sanitation in a school, for example, is going to not only advance water and sanitation, but also basic education, literacy, disease treatment, child health and so on.
“There are parts of the world where the best thing you can do to improve literacy rates among women is to simply improve the water supply, so girls are no longer carrying water instead of going to school.
“There are endless examples where ways of understanding the complex relationships within humanitarian service can to lead to more successful results.”
Mr Riseley added that peace is an area of focus which, on the face of it, seems to sit outside this dynamic.
He added: “It is time for Rotary to start looking at those complicated realities, to start exploring them and understanding them much better than we do now to get the greatest impact possible out of everything we do.”