In the mid-1980s, polio was virtually eliminated from the United States and several other “First World” nations; but the virus still infected an estimated 338,000 people annually, leaving death, disfigurement and permanent disability in its wake. It was about that time that Rotary International and individual Rotary clubs around the world took on the bold task of eliminating polio from the face of the Earth.
Fast forward to today. The campaign to eliminate polio has been joined and strengthened by many strategic partners — The World Health Organization, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and governments from inflicted and noninflicted countries alike.
In calendar year 2012, there were only 222 new cases of polio reported in the world. This year, to date, there have only been two new cases.
It has taken nearly $8 billion and scores of lives to get to the point where we are now, but extrapolating from the incidence figures of the 1980s, the polio eradication campaign has saved 9 million people from becoming infected by this horrific virus, saved hundreds of thousands of lives, and prevented millions of people — primarily children — from permanent physical impairment.
Polio has inflicted humankind since before the pyramids of Egypt were built; possibly long before. It’s taken longer than anticipated to knock down polio to its last endemic strongholds. But we’re almost there.
I am awed by Rotary’s determination and persistence on this project. It probably is the reason why I am a Rotarian today.
With so many violent and troubling events in the world, it should grant some relief to know that there are good people out there doing things to bring us all together as a healthy, human species. Many of those people belong to the service clubs that operate within our own local communities — the Optimist Clubs, the Lions, Kiwanis, Jaycees and Rotary, to name a few. Support them — any of them or all of them — and make the world a better place.
Hopefully within the next two years, you can be part of an epic occasion in human history, as you join with Rotarians in recognizing and commemorating the very last case of human polio infection in the world.
That will be a good day.
Mark Pearce, of Warrensburg, is governor of Rotary District 6080.