Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a final push to eradicate polio worldwide, while paying tribute to Rotary International on Sunday for its tireless work in helping to stamp out the crippling disease.
Mr. Ban noted that when Rotary International launched its PolioPlus campaign in 1985, more than 125 countries suffered from polio endemic, and at least a thousand children were paralyzed every day.
Since then “millions of Rotarians have devoted endless volunteer hours in their quest to reach and vaccinate every child all over the world,” he said in a keynote address to the organization's convention in Birmingham, United Kingdom.
The Secretary-General said that in the face of “funding shortfalls, cultural barriers, lack of political will, even risks to your personal security” Rotarians have raised over $250 million to fund the fight against the spread of polio.
“You have met with everyone from village elders to presidents to get their support ... met with religious leaders to gain their confidence ... inspired business leaders to reach into their pockets and to speak up for this cause in the corridors of power,” he said.
As a result more than two billion children have been immunized and over five million children who otherwise would have been paralyzed are walking, said Mr. Ban. “There are now only four countries that are still polio endemic.” Polio is widespread in Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan.
“Now is the time to finish the job,” said Mr. Ban, urging donor governments to help create a polio-free future.
At a time of global economic recession, the “choice is clear,” he said. “We can cut back on health expenditures and incur massive losses in lives and capacity for growth. Or we can invest in health and spare both people and economies the high cost of inaction.”
Mr. Ban dedicated the Polio Eradication Champion Award he received from Rotary International today to three polio workers who were killed last year in Afghanistan.
“They were on their way to prepare for a vaccination drive when their convoy was ambushed by a suicide bomber,” he said of Mamoon Taher Taheri, ShamsulHaq Kakar and Azizullah Almas.