Oct. 24 is designated as World Polio Day. If you are like me, you know very few people who ever contracted polio. The reason is simple, there has been a safe and effective vaccine available for decades. However, the problem in the developing world has been the distribution of the vaccine.
After years of effort from Rotary International and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, we are getting very close to the complete eradication of polio in the world. This year there have been two cases of wild polio. You will not be surprised to know that those cases occurred in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The world will be officially declared polio-free after there have been no new cases for a three-year period. To get to this point has taken decades and billions of dollars.
The images from the Kabul airport showing the chaos taking place at the end of August underscore the difficulty of inoculating another 450 million people around the world this year alone. Fortunately, the Taliban has allowed the dedicated Rotarians and others to continue their efforts. Even they understand the necessity of getting the vaccine to the people in their country.
Several years ago, my family traveled to several countries in Western Africa. In Sierra Leone we were invited to watch a soccer game at the beach. To be honest, it didn’t sound like a great use of our time, but watching that game changed my life. Both teams were comprised of young men between 18 and 21 years of age. The first team had a squad made up of amputees.
That was unexpected, but the reason why is that they had all been conscripted into the country’s civil war. If they refused to serve, the leaders chopped off a limb. The opposing team was made up of all polio survivors. Watching these joyful and happy young men was bittersweet when you realized that their disfigurement and suffering was completely unnecessary.
Rotary International is comprised of 1.2 million people around the world. They have chosen the eradication of polio as their top priority. Of course, they do many other things in our local communities and in almost every country on earth. There are well projects, literacy and they recently added the environment as an area of focus.
Of course, the Rotarians are not alone. Kiwanians and Lions and other nongovernmental organizations are positively impacting our world. One concern is that membership in these important organizations has declined over the years. One thing that people don’t realize is that there is something for everyone these days. A club like Duluth Superior Eco Rotary has a lower cost, flexible attendance and is one of the cause-based clubs that Rotary is promoting. Service above self opportunities abound.
You no longer need to worry about membership costing more than you can afford or not accommodating the needs of both your work and family. There are clubs that meet virtually, hybrid and in person. One concern is that women are underrepresented in these important service organizations. To improve this situation, we are encouraging more family friendly events and a variety of meeting times.
Please join us for Pints for Polio from 2-4 p.m. Oct. 24 at Bent Paddle in Lincoln Park. Help us raise a glass to help End Polio Now.
Kay Biga has been a Rotarian since 1996 and she will serve as District 5580’s district governor in 2022 – 2023. She is actively working on the Women in Rotary project to increase the percentage of women members.