Letter from RI President Barry Rassin regarding World Polio Day

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Barry Rassin
President, 2018-19
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barry.rassin@rotary.org
My dear friends and fellow Rotary leaders,

24 October is just a couple weeks away, and I hope all of you are busy planning for how your club will mark this year’s World Polio Day. It’s just fantastic to see how many clubs and districts have already registered events at endpolio.org, and how much thought and creativity has gone into their planning. There will be lectures, concerts, polio walks, polio rides, and of course, livestream viewing parties. Many clubs are also taking advantage of the virtual reality films now available and incorporating a virtual reality experience in their World Polio Day activities.

If you haven’t yet, be sure to head over to endpolio.org to promote your event, get details on the livestream, and find out what else is going on in your area. Remember that hosting a World Polio Day event can help you earn this year’s Presidential Citation!

One of the things I’ve heard as I’ve traveled for Rotary is that Rotarians don’t always know how to answer some of the tough questions they get on polio eradication. To help, we’ve prepared a brief Q & A outlining some of the basics. The questions I hear most often, though, are the simplest ones: Why aren’t we there yet, and why are we still raising so much money for polio?

To answer that question, it’s helpful to use a metaphor many of us can easily understand: mowing a lawn. For most small lawns, you don’t need more than a push mower. If you’ve got something much larger—say, half an acre—you’d invest in a riding mower. And you’d be fine.

Now imagine you’re faced with mowing an absolutely enormous field—say, forty acres, or about sixteen hectares. Imagine it hasn’t been mowed in years, and it’s full of weeds, brambles, and thorns. And imagine you need everything on that field cut to the exact same height. You couldn’t do it over a period of days: the section you mowed first would grow back before you reached the end. What would you do? You couldn’t even think about a push mower. Even a riding mower would take a week and probably couldn’t handle it. The only way to do it would be to bring out the big guns, and get a tractor with a six-foot mower in the back—maybe even a couple of tractors.

Now consider the logistics of polio eradication.  There are 360,000 babies born every single day in the world. To be fully protected against polio, each of them must be vaccinated not just once, but several times. To stop the virus from traveling, every childmust be fully vaccinated all at the same time—before enough new children are born to allow the virus to travel again.

The only way to achieve eradication is through the massive and coordinated scale on which we are now working: using a vast network of systems to deliver about 430 million doses of vaccine every year, via mass immunization campaigns. Forget a 40-acre field—we’re talking about Africa, we’re talking about southeast Asia. Places with vast distances, incredibly remote communities, wars, instability, poverty—and hundreds of millions of children. We need to reach them all.

The only way to finish the job is to give it everything we have, all at once. Yes, it’s expensive. Yes, it’s difficult. Yes, it is a task of breathtaking ambition and scope. But thanks to you–we are doing it.

That is what all of us need to know, and understand, on this World Polio Day. Now is the time to give it everything we have, to raise the funds, raise the awareness, and Be the Inspiration to End Polio Now.

Yours in Rotary,

Barry Rassin
President, Rotary International 2018-19