As PolioPlus Chair for Rotary District 5170, I was asked by a club president why polio was still not eradicated. The following article gives one of the unfortunate reasons. But remember, the yearly new caseload worldwide was 350,000 to 500,000. Last year there were only 76 cases worldwide. This year, there are only 15. The current political conflict in Pakistan is the root cause of the 15. WE REALLY ARE THIS CLOSE!!!!
The Human Toll of Polio Eradication
By Pat Killoran, Zone 24 West End Polio Now Coordinator
The iconic polio story, a story told often and told well, makes a deserving headline. Rotary and its partners have achieved success beyond measure … success that should be shared far and wide, in every language and throughout the world. We can be proud of the results: only 76 wild polio cases in the world last year. We can be proud of the mobilization as the WHO leads an eradication effort that blankets the globe. We can be proud of the fundraising as all the partners including Rotary and Rotarians, WHO, governments, Bill Gates and others consistently meet the financial needs of the Polio Campaign.
BUT, as the world celebrates, we must not forget that the price for polio eradication is more than money. The headlines on January 13, 2016, read “Suicide attack … in southwest Pakistan kills 15, mostly policemen”. This hints at the rest of the story. So let us remind ourselves of the human cost to polio eradication. The January 13 murders, like so many terrorist attacks and tragedies in our world, were on the front page of the newspapers one day and gone the next in favor of another story. It’s easy to tell ourselves that the attacks happened somewhere else, somewhere over there, allowing us to gloss over this tragic cost … allowing us to numb ourselves to the result.
We must remind ourselves: No matter how noble the cause, the loss of even one life matters. And this was not a unique event: There were similar headlines on December 29, 2015, one life in Afghanistan; March 11, 2014, 11 lives in Pakistan; March 17, 2014, two more; February 2014, four lives in Pakistan; February 2013, nine lives in Nigeria ; and there have been many more. In Pakistan alone there have been almost 100 murders associated with the polio campaign. In addition to the killings, polio workers and their families are targeted with death threats, harassment and blackmail causing disruption to families.
It’s critical to remember the commitment and sacrifice made by the people of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria to help the world finish the eradication effort. I am not sure how we value their contribution. What’s a human life worth? What are 100 human lives worth? Clearly, the costs have not only been money but also human life and suffering.
So, if I debate with myself about a donation to PolioPlus … if I wonder if my donation should be $10 or $100 or $10,000 … then I should also wonder about the deaths of over 100 Afghans, Nigerians and Pakistanis. I should also wonder how their commitment to polio has affected their lives, their families and their communities. I should wonder how my financial gift will honor their sacrifice.
There is no doubt that we must stay focused on the goal of a polio free world, Rotary’s number one priority. We must stay committed to the children of the world. At the same time, we need to remember and be thankful for those, past, present and future, who have sacrificed their lives, rights and freedom for a polio-free world. They truly are a gift to the world … and we must never forget!