Rotary International Centenary Convention

Chicago, USA
21 June 2005

Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

In 1979, the year Rotary first immunized children in the Philippines, your vision of a world without polio was extremely bold.

Rotary’s vision was especially bold for the Western Pacific Region, where I used to work, and where I often discussed with Rotarians the task that lay ahead of us. In no other part of the world would the challenges of reaching all children be so great. Here we faced the most populous nation in the world – China. Here we faced one of the most conflict-torn countries in the world – Cambodia. Here we faced some of the most remote human settlements in the world. After the successful eradication of polio in the Americas, the Western Pacific was the test: if the polio strategies could work there they could work everywhere. In the early 1990s, the World Health Organization, UNICEF and CDC joined hands with Rotary in that Region to take on the challenge together. The result of this extraordinary partnership is well known: the Western Pacific Region is now certified polio-free.

It was fifteen years ago in that same Region that I began my long engagement with Rotary and Rotarians — an engagement that continues to this day. Working day after day on polio eradication alongside Rotarians from the region and senior Rotary leaders, I gained first-hand knowledge of how valuable Rotary was as a partner and what it can accomplish. You have mobilized communities with the help of thousands of volunteers. You have motivated national and local governments to commit themselves to polio eradication, hesitant parents to immunize their children, and warring factions to lay down their arms so that vaccinators could get to where they were needed.

2005 is a very important anniversary for Rotary, and it is for me personally as well: ten years ago I first met Rotarian Bill Sergeant, who has been a truly great friend and colleague. As Chairman of International Polio Plus Committee, he is also the perfect symbol of Rotary's role in this historic effort.

Eradicating polio will be an achievement that you will tell your children about, and they in turn will tell theirs – for you have given the world a universal and timeless gift. You will tell them how you built, step by step, by working with one individual after another, the template of a model private-public partnership. When that expression was still unknown, you were already defining it by showing how a private civic organization can spark an idea, how government support can nurture that idea, and how international technical know-how can make it a reality. Every day, I hear from groups that want to form partnerships, and I hear about dozens of new partnerships every year. But the polio partnership is like no other: stable and productive, it has lasted for nearly 20 years, built strategies and carried out campaigns, and is now near its goal.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan recently called the Global Polio Eradication Initiative "a shining model of international cooperation". In these challenging times, it is good to remember joint ventures that do work. Here in Chicago, we are gathered from all over the world, and we have eradicated polio from large parts of that world. We could not have done that without international cooperation. Very soon, when we identify the last child on earth to contract polio, it will be a success for the international community to celebrate together.

Rotary has provided both the vision and the sheer human power – in the form of its millions of volunteers, and its advocates. You worked in the booths vaccinating children, you went house-to-house even in the most difficult conditions, you organized rallies to motivate parents and communities, you spoke up on polio in every media outlet, and you convinced mothers and fathers to protect their children with vaccination.

When you weren't out there involved in vaccinating children, you were lobbying your local politicians, your state representatives or your national governments to strengthen their commitment to eradicating polio. You challenged your elected bodies to act, to become involved and to take ownership. A dream like this cannot come true without government ownership, and without some body like Rotary working with those governments.

The world's largest coordinated peacetime activity cannot succeed without adequate financial resources. Here again Rotarians have led the way. Your generosity has been truly impressive. Rotarians have reached into their own pockets to come up with a sum that dwarfs the contributions of most governments: six hundred million dollars by making donations, baking pies, running races, selling books, holding auctions and raising funds in every traditional and innovative way known to humankind. These funds have been critical for the world's poorest countries and communities to plan and carry out campaigns effectively, to procure oral polio vaccine, to establish disease surveillance systems, to set up laboratories, and to respond to emergencies as they occur.

It is the steadfast resolve of the more than one million Rotarians in 167 countries that has brought us so close to realizing the dream of polio eradication. Without the vision and sustained guidance of Rotarians, polio would still be stalking children on every continent.

Ladies and Gentlemen, you have so much to be proud of:

Globally, polio cases have dropped from one thousand per day to just over a thousand last year — a decrease of more than 99%.

More than 5 million children who would have been paralysed by polio are walking today because of your efforts.

We have prevented the deaths of 1.2 million children by the addition of Vitamin A drops in our campaigns.

Now polio is down to a few hot spots on only two continents: Africa and Asia. And in one of these endemic areas – South Asia – we are close to stopping polio for ever. In Afghanistan which is rebuilding itself from decades of conflict, vaccinators trek for miles to make sure every child, even in the remotest areas, receives polio vaccine. In Pakistan, where it is often difficult to reach the youngest children within a home, teams of trusted locals now act as vaccinators. In India – the most populous of the endemic countries – the tireless efforts of Rotarians and the exemplary backing of the government have finally managed to overcome all the obstacles: now enough children are being reached enough times to stop polio by the end of this year.

Recently you may have read about the spread of polio to Yemen and Indonesia, countries that had been free of polio for many years. This shows why we embarked on the road to eradication. Once polio is stopped everywhere, no child anywhere will be exposed to imported virus. The final push to kick polio out of Africa and Asia will achieve this if we put all our combined weight and strength behind this intense effort now.

In Africa, the African Union responded to the outbreak in 2004 by conducting synchronized polio campaigns in 24 countries that reached approximately 100 million children. This series of vaccination campaigns was the largest ever internationally coordinated operation to have been carried out in peacetime. Rotary was instrumental in ensuring that Presidents and Prime Ministers participated in the launch and renewed their commitment to stop polio in Africa. As a result, this year, West and Central Africa have reported the lowest level of polio cases in three years.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Because of Rotary, we have completed 99% of our task. To achieve the last 1%, we need Rotary's continuing advocacy more than ever, to ensure that all national governments – both of polio-affected countries and of donor countries – are fully committed to eradicating polio and to meeting their financial obligations. Rotary is doing its part, and I challenge donor governments and members of the G8, the European Union and the Organization of the Islamic Conference to do likewise, fulfil their commitments and quickly come forward with multi-year pledges so we can finish this job.

The end is in sight and we need the global community to accompany us to every household and reach every child with the vaccine. We need the polio-affected and polio-free countries to show the same resolve that Rotary has shown. We are in this until the end – until this mission, which began 20 years ago, becomes a reality for every child, in every country, and on every continent for all future generations. With your energy, support and unparalleled dedication, I know we will make this a reality.

I would like to recognize here the presence of our partners Dr Julie Gerberding, Director of CDC, and Dr Rima Salah, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF. Will you please join Rotary International President Glenn Estess and Rotary Foundation Chair Carlo Ravizza on the stage?

Mr President,

We, WHO, CDC and UNICEF, are honoured to have travelled this road together with you and would like to present you with a token of our immense gratitude to all Rotarians for your steadfast commitment to protect the children of the world. You truly symbolize "Service Above Self."

Happy 100th Birthday Rotary!