But we can’t let that scare us or become an excuse to back off. In fact, it’s why we need to renew our efforts now – when we’re so close. The simple fact is: The presence of polio anywhere is a threat everywhere since this disease doesn’t recognize borders. If we don’t finish the job, the World Health Organization warns that we could see a resurgence of polio cases around the world.
The good news is there is a strong global coalition determined to end polio in the three endemic countries. When I visited Nigeria in 2010, I met with several government, religious, and civil society leaders. Their commitment to stopping polio was clear.
While Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan are making progress, they can’t let up on their domestic efforts to fight the disease. But they need continued support and resources from the international community to keep the momentum going. An estimated $1.5 billion is needed from donors. To put that in perspective, Americans spend twice as much – around $3 billion – on Halloween costumes.
Leadership from the United States government has been essential to the fight against polio, as well as to many global health issues. To keep children around the world – and in the U.S. – safe and healthy, this leadership must continue.
We have the tools and ability to stop polio; now we need to maintain the commitment to reach the finish line. The Rotary International Convention is an important moment for leaders from around the world and across sectors to renew their support for this achievable goal.
In addition to the millions of lives that have and will be saved, polio eradication will save money for overstretched health systems. The net benefit of polio eradication alone is estimated to be $20 billion to $25 billion over the next 20 years. It will also allow countries and the global community to leverage the infrastructure that has been built for polio eradication to strengthen a wide variety of other health efforts around the world.
Given the stakes, we can’t sit on the sidelines. We have it in our power to ensure that future generations will live in a polio-free world. Working together, I know we can finish the job on polio. We can and must ensure that polio follows smallpox as the second human disease in history to be eradicated from our planet.
Ted Turner, founder of CNN, is the Founder and Chairman of the United Nations Foundation.
Steve Stirling’s committment to eradicate polio is personal. Photos contributed by Atish Patel for Rotary International. Video by Ryon Horne