Monday, March 10, 2014

End Polio Now

I recently spent a weekend in Mesa, Arizona at a Rotary International conference for incoming officers and leaders of the club. During one of the sessions, I had the honor of listening to an incredible speaker with an even more incredible story. Her name is Ann Lee Hussey, and she is one of many remarkable people working to eradicate Polio worldwide.

Her story is very personal when it comes to Polio, and I would encourage you to read a more in depth look at her journey and what she is doing today at this article by Real Simple. She contracted Polio when she was very young and before Polio vaccinations were commonplace. Polio, once contracted, is incurable. It is manageable however, although it requires modern medicine and extensive rehab. You never fully recover.

Ann spoke to us about how it takes twice the energy to walk across the room for her, and how she had to have extensive surgery just to be able to walk normally. She told us she how she was lucky that she was born in the United States, as those in impoverished nations without access to proper care often face a life spent walking on their hands and knees because their legs are so crippled and mangled. The pictures she shared with us from her 25 immunization trips to some of the harshest places on Earth made it that much more real and immediate. This was no longer a disease that existed in history books and far away nations; a disease that our grandfathers and grandmothers eradicated 30 years ago. This was a disease that, even at the brink of getting extinguished, is still destroying lives.

But Ann wasn't telling her story to scare us into donating or to garner sympathy for her cause. She was telling her story to let us know that Rotary and its partners are only a few steps away from achieving eradication. They are "this close," as illustrated in Rotary's End Polio Now campaign. They have 3 endemic countries left: Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan. They are gaining momentum, with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on board and donating $2 for every $1 raised toward this cause. And, with one more push and finishing strong, Polio can and will be eradicated within the next 5 years.

When I was listening to her speech, I never felt like I was being sold a product or a cause like you would expect from someone speaking on an issue like this. Most fights that people take up are endeavors that tend to be ongoing. Ideally, every non-profit and charity strives to be so proficient in their arena that their issue is eventually resolved and they effectively render themselves obsolete. They are playing the long game: fight the issue, but remain organized and well funded long enough to see it through.

Listening to Ann and learning about what Rotary has done was more like watching a marathon runner towards the end of the race. They officially started up this campaign in 1985, and in 29 years they've gone from 125 endemic countries to 3. The finish line is in sight, and they are a Powerbar and a swig of water away from crossing it. Those causes are rare and exciting to see and be a part of.

Her speech was a testament to what we as humans are able to accomplish when we come together as an international community and work together. The more I travel and the more I see in this world, the more I realize how critical it is for everyone (and especially my generation) to recognize that there is strength to be found in our commonalities. We tend to gravitate towards that way of thinking, but those voices speaking out for cooperation tend to be quiet and reserved.  They should be plastered on every news channel and visible in every medium not for self-promotion, but as reminders to each and every one of us that human progress prospers when we are able to recognize our obstacles and tackle them together.

No comments:

Post a Comment