END POLIO NOW - May 2011 update

Eradicating polio will take renewed resolve

May 2011 - Bill Gates addressed Rotarians during the third plenary session of the 2011 RI Convention 24 May.

Bill Gates, cochair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, praised Rotary for its continued success in the effort to eradicate polio, but cautioned that Rotarians will need to redouble their efforts to keep the disease from spreading -- and threatening hundreds of thousands of children.

Gates, the keynote speaker at the third plenary session of the 2011 RI Convention, 24 May in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, said that because of Rotary, there are many places in the world where polio is no longer considered a threat.

“That’s a blessing and a curse,” said Gates. “The blessing is that in many places, polio is a disease of the past. The curse is that it is now harder for us to raise awareness that, in some places, polio is also a disease of the present. If we fail to help leaders around the world understand this, polio is certain to be a disease of the future.”

Gates praised Rotary for reducing the incidence of polio by more than 99 percent worldwide since 1988. “Your work has brought us so far,” he said. “I’m so proud to be a partner in the work that Rotary has been doing to eradicate polio.”

Gates noted that only one case of polio had been reported in India this year, as of March. “India is approaching zero cases,” said Gates. “None of this would have been remotely achievable had it not been for Rotary. We would not be where we are without you. Nor can we get to where we’re going without you.”

Gates said that he and his wife, Melinda, have made eradicating polio their foundation's top priority. With the world on the threshold of eradication, the hard work really begins, he said.

“Polio eradication has been our single biggest investment in recent years, as far as innovation and creativity. The last 1 percent will be the longest and hardest 1 percent,” he said. “It will require more work and more commitment than ever before. Without the redoubled effort of everyone in this room, and your fellow Rotarians around the world, we will not succeed. Redoubling is crucial to ending polio.”

The Gates Foundation has awarded two grants totaling US$355 million to Rotary in support of its work in eradicating the disease. Rotary has responded with Rotary's US$200 Million Challenge . To date, Rotarians have raised $173.2 million for the challenge.

Gates said he plans to work with Rotary leadership to keep polio front and center in the public eye. “You have helped so many people understand that we are ‘this close.’ I challenge you to make your voices louder.”

Countries including Canada, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States have all increased their investment in the eradication effort. Gates attributed that success to the pressure Rotarians have put on the leaders of those countries. But he noted that with a funding gap of $400 million next year for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative , it is no time to let up.

“If we fail, the disease will not stay at its current low level,” he said. “It will spread back into countries where it’s been eliminated, and will kill and paralyze hundreds of thousands of children who used to be safe.”

Gates said that the monuments Rotarians have illuminated with the End Polio Now message are powerful images. “But ultimately, the most important monument won’t be the one we illuminate,” said Gates. “It will be the one we create.”

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) has made significant progress since the launch of its new strategic plan and the bivalent oral polio vaccine last year. In India and Nigeria, the sources of all recent wild poliovirus importations into previously polio-free countries, the disease declined by 95 percent between 2009 and 2010.

The World Health Organization calls the progress encouraging, "but the job is not yet finished, and we must see this through to the end," said its director-general, Margaret Chan, at the World Health Assembly in May.

In addition to the gains made by India and Nigeria, 15 countries in Africa have stopped outbreaks of the disease that started in 2009, reported the GPEI Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) in April.

The GPEI's leading partner agencies -- the World Health Organization, Rotary International, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and UNICEF -- and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation welcomed the report. They particularly noted the IMB's assessment that polio eradication is "entirely feasible" and "desperately needed," and that countries that are off track in meeting GPEI milestones can be brought back on track with support from national governments, donors, and the spearheading partners.

Among those countries is Pakistan, which launched the National Emergency Action Plan for Polio Eradication 2011 with the goal of halting transmission of the disease by the end of the year. Rotarians there are working "to cover every nook and corner of the country," said Aziz Memon, chair of the Pakistan PolioPlus Committee. "We are committed to a polio-free Pakistan."

The report also referred to an estimated US$665 million funding gap through 2012 as the "single greatest threat to the GPEI's success." To help address the gap, the Gates Foundation has awarded two grants totaling $355 million to Rotary in support of its work. Rotary has responded with Rotary's US$200 Million Challenge, which will be completed on 30 June 2012; to date, Rotarians have raised $173.2 million.

"The IMB clearly stated that all member states have decided together to eradicate polio, and that funding the effort should be a shared responsibility," said Rotary Foundation Trustee Chair Carl-Wilhelm Stenhammar at a May meeting with Margaret Chan, Bill Gates, health ministers from polio-infected countries, and international development agency representatives. "We therefore invite donor governments from around the world to join the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the ongoing commitment by Rotary's 1.2 million members worldwide, and rapidly make available flexible funding critically needed to implement all activities of the strategic plan."

The IMB's report concludes that polio eradication is feasible in the near future, but warns that the goal will only be achieved with "heightened attention" at all levels.

"If we fail, the disease will not stay at its current low level," said Bill Gates, speaking at the RI Convention in May. "It will spread back into countries where it has been eliminated, and it will kill and paralyze hundreds of thousands of children who used to be safe."

"We are at a crossroads right now," said Bruce Aylward, assistant director-general of WHO for polio eradication and related areas, at a TED talk in March. "We have a new vaccine, we have new resolve, we have new tactics. We have the chance to write an entirely new polio-free chapter in human history. But if we blink now, we will lose forever the chance to eradicate an ancient disease. End polio now."

As of 31 May, Rotarians have raised about $174.7 million for Rotary's US$200 Million Challenge. These contributions will help Rotary raise $200 million to match $355 million in challenge grants received from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The resulting $555 million will directly support immunization campaigns in developing countries, where polio continues to infect and paralyze children, robbing them of their futures and compounding the hardships faced by their families.

As long as polio threatens even one child anywhere in the world, children everywhere remain at risk. The stakes are that high. Source: Rotary International Convention: New Orleans - 2011

Copyright 2003-04 Rotary eClub NY1 * Updated 2011
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