Caricature of Fred Collignon, by noted Berkeley artist, Stan Washburn

Caricature of Fred Collignon, by noted Berkeley artist, Stan Washburn

October is Rotary Foundation’s Polio Plus month


This month, we focus on our signature project for which Rotary is best known. As you’ve heard in my club Governor’s talk, at the RI international conference in Atlanta, we expect to celebrate the start of the three-year countdown to a declared victory in defeating Polio. Both the World Health Organization and the Center for Communicable Disease Control in Atlanta independently predicted that 2016 would see the last new case of the wild polio virus. Rotary is hedging its predictions, expecting the last case to arise in 2016-17

Even though Nigeria has recently had to shift back into the epidemic country classification, none of the groups has yet revised their prediction. As the Director of the WHO Polio Eradication Campaign told a news conference about Nigeria this week, “There is every hope for a rapid end to this outbreak.” As for the two other epidemic countries, we almost went three months this year with no new polio cases in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Through the first nine months of 2016, there have been only 14 new cases of the wild polio virus in Pakistan, 9 in Afghanistan, and 3 in Nigeria.

Regardless of the timing, it will remain one of the two great public health triumphs in human history – smallpox and now polio eradication, two of our greatest killers of mankind in history. And as Bill Gates concedes, the effort to rid the world of polio would not have started, and will not succeed without Rotary. We’re the ones who successfully mobilize the countries where it’s epidemic to engage in the fight, working with the international public health authorities.

There was a time when those of us in the U.S. worried that because we had licked polio at home, we now had a generation or two with no experience of polio. We worried that they had no appreciation for what had been achieved here. Would they understand that polio remained a killer and crippler in the Third World, 2-3 decades after we had defeated it at home? That fear that the young in the US don’t understand the critical task at hand is legitimate in the US overall, but less so in ethnically diverse California. For the last 7-8 years. I’ve been going into annual assemblies of several hundred Rotaracters and asking how many know of polio. Most raise their hands. When I ask how many have victims in their extended families, half raise their hands. If they’re first, second or third generation immigrants, they know of relatives afflicted with polio. And, a large share of our Rotaracters are formerly Interacters. It’s at least one reason why our Rotary youth programs are joining us in this final drive to win the war against Polio. They do understand.

What can we do?

Last year, our District honored the Rotary Foundation’s request to all Districts, and allocated $53,437 from our Global Funds balance. The Gates Foundation matched it 2:1, plus 50% RI match brought the total donation to Polio Plus to $240,466. It was approved by a unanimous vote of the 66 clubs that chose to vote. Our clubs and PDG Ken made our District proud. In addition, our Rotarian members donated $70,607 of their own funds throughout the year, which with the Gates match, adding another $211,800 to our District’s contribution.

This year, Interact has adopted Polio Plus as its District-wide project. Rotaract and Interact are helping our Rotary District to mount a Facebook and/or other social media campaign to educate and raise money from our many friends and extended family. You’ll see articles about these drives in the coming months. Likely, your Interact club will be asking their sponsor club to match the money they raise.

This year, Rotary International has asked each club to contribute $2,650 to Polio Plus. Just think. The Gates Foundation will match each dollar 2:1. Each dollar you contribute – whether to the Interact or Rotaract campaign, or directly to The Rotary Foundation for Polio Plus – will really be a $3 contribution to the vaccination effort. What impact can we have, if each of our clubs contributed the minimum requested? What impact could we have, if we educated our friends and family, and asked them to contribute, and our total donations were even more?

Your Governor’s call to action is this:

Make use of every opportunity to reach Rotary’s goal. Reach out to family and friends, and give something yourself. When we finally do reach our imminent victory in the war against polio, and when polio becomes a distant memory, each one of us wants to be able to tell our grandchildren, “Yes! I was a part of that!”

Join our youth and Rotarians worldwide, put in some more resources, and let’s win the war this year. We are truly “this close” to victory.