JOHN F. GERM
In 1979, James Bomar Jr., the president of Rotary at the time, traveled to the Philippines as part of Rotary’s earliest work to immunize children against polio. After he had put drops of vaccine into one baby’s mouth, he felt a child’s hand tugging on his trouser leg to get his attention. Bomar looked down and saw the baby’s brother looking up at him, saying earnestly, “Thank you, thank you, Rotary.”
Before Rotary took on the task of polio eradication, 350,000 people – nearly all of them children – were paralyzed by polio every year. That child in the Philippines knew exactly what polio was and understood exactly what Rotary had just done for his baby brother. Today, 31 years after the launch of PolioPlus, the children of the Philippines – and of nearly every other country in the world – are growing up without that knowledge, and that fear, of polio. Instead of 1,000 new cases of polio every day, we are averaging less than one per week. But as the fear of polio wanes, so does awareness of the disease. Now more than ever, it is vitally important to keep that awareness high and to push polio eradication to the top of the public agenda and our governments’ priorities. We need to make sure the world knows that our work to eradicate polio isn’t over yet, but that Rotary is in it to end it.
On 24 October, Rotary will mark World Polio Day to help raise the awareness and the funding we need to reach full eradication. I ask all of you to take part by holding an event in your club, in your community, or online. Ideas and materials are available for download in all Rotary languages at endpolio.org/worldpolioday, and you can register your event with Rotary at the same link. You can also join me and tens of thousands of your fellow Rotarians for a live-streamed global status update at 6 p.m. Eastern time at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. I’ll be there along with CDC Director Tom Frieden, other experts, and inspirational presenters, sharing an inside look at the science, partnerships, and human stories of polio eradication.
It is an incredibly exciting time to be a Rotarian. We are gathering momentum for the final race to the finish: to the end of PolioPlus and the beginning of a polio-free world. It is truly a once-in-a-lifetime chance to End Polio Now, throughRotary Serving Humanity.
From the October 2016 issue of The Rotarian
Tom Frieden is a little out of breath. He just climbed the stairs from a meeting to his office on the top floor of the 12-story headquarters of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. “I did that because we have a beautiful stairway in this building. I can look outside, and I get better email coverage on the stairs than I do in the elevator,” the CDC director says. His trip up the stairs sums up his view on one of the tenets of his work: “The sweet spot of public health is making the healthiest thing to do the default value – in other words, the easiest thing to do.”
Frieden took his post in 2009 after stopping the largest outbreak of drug-resistant tuberculosis in U.S. history in New York City, helping establish TB treatment programs in India that have saved more than 3 million lives, and serving seven-plus years as health commissioner of New York City. There, he worked with Mayor Michael Bloomberg to make all restaurants and bars smoke-free, making New York the first major city to do so outside California. His controversial policies had him criticized as a “nanny” in some circles – and lauded as a visionary in others.
As head of the U.S. public health system, Frieden has taken on everything from Ebola to the flu. But where his work most closely intersects with Rotary’s is in polio eradication – CDC joins Rotary, UNICEF, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the World Health Organization as a core partner in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. CDC deploys scientists to investigate outbreaks of polio, identify the strain of poliovirus involved, and pinpoint its geographic origin. “Rotary has done such a phenomenal job for so many decades on this, and now we are poised to get over the finish line and end polio once and for all,” Frieden says.
He spoke with senior editor Diana Schoberg about ending polio and the best buys in public health.