Once considered a deadly plague, polio, a paralysing, incurable and potentially fatal disease that mainly threatens children invading their nervous systems and causing total paralysis within hours, is today a distant memory thanks to the undeterred international efforts of Rotary and its partners who have successfully driven polio eradication for more than three decades worldwide.
A world first
Taking the first initiative to tackle global polio eradication by vaccinating children on a mass scale, Rotary’s PolioPlus has seen members advocate, fund raise and volunteer to rid the world of this
Rotary Sri Lanka District Governor S. Karunakaran
parasitic disease. Inspiring governments, businesses and the community at large with the power of team work for a good cause, Rotary has contributed over $ 1.9 billion and uncountable hours of service to protect 2.5 billion children across 122 countries. This effort has been rewarded with the reduction of polio cases by 99.9%, with only Afghanistan and Pakistan continuing to report rare cases of wild poliovirus.
Along with raising funds and recruiting volunteers to take the polio vaccination to children across the world, Rotary has also created much-needed awareness and dialogue about the disease, providing infrastructural and service support to end polio for good. With a growing list of celebrities such as Bill Gates, Kristen Bell, John Cena, Jackie Chan, and A.R. Rahman to name a few, Rotary continues to educate the public about the disease to ensure that it never again raises its ugly head.
A polio-free island
Sri Lanka is polio-free and has been for more than 20 years, with the last case reported back in 1993, all thanks to the fearless and dedicated efforts of local Rotarians, braving terrorism, wars and bureaucratic red tape.
Rotarians got together with the UNICEF in 1995 to work with the Health Ministry to eradicate polio from Sri Lanka through a National Immunisation Day, where Rotary would pledge $ 1.5 million with the rest sourced by the Government. Refusing to compromise with Ministry officials who advised against carrying on the mission in conflict areas of the north and east where the Government had neither access nor control over, Rotary was adamant that all children in Sri Lanka be vaccinated.
This unwavering determination resulted in Rotary defying all odds and successfully obtaining a cease-fire promise from the LTTE for the cause of polio immunisation. With both parties laying down their weapons, the Rotarians, UNICEF, Red Cross and other health workers went to the north and east, and every part of the island, and ensured that Sri Lanka would not have a single inch of land nor a single child unvaccinated. Consequentially the World Health Organization and UNICEF branded Sri Lanka as a polio-free country – a status still borne with pride.
Commemorating this inspiring mission and to build further awareness towards ensuring that polio never rears its head again in Sri Lanka, on 26 October this year, Rotary Sri Lanka, is organising an Intercity Meeting at Sri Lanka Foundation Institute from 2 p.m. – 4 p.m. to recognise and award all those who played an integral role in the fight to eradicate polio from Sri Lanka. This is followed by a Polio Parade partnered by Classic Cars from 4:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. and a Carnival with live music and food stalls from 7 p.m. onwards on Ananda Coomarasamy Mawatha in Colombo 7. The events will be centred around the theme ‘Keeping Sri Lanka Polio Free’ and is hosted in conjunction with the Ministry of Health, World Health and UNICEF.
District Governor for Rotary Sri Lanka, Sebastian Karunakaran said, “Whilst Sri Lanka has been polio-free since 1993, we should not abandon the fight in eradicating it from the world entirely. One thing is certain, if we are not careful, polio can always come back and regain ground in our villages, towns and communities. Therefore, we need to raise awareness of this issue and do everything we can to totally eliminate this deadly disease from the world.”