Today is World Polio Day, recognized by the 1.3 million Rotarians around the world and the 150 Rotarians in the three Prince George clubs.
Rotary has been working for the last 27 years to eliminate this horrible disease, which strikes in childhood and leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.
From the middle of the 19th century until the middle of the 20th century, polio struck tens of millions of people around the world until Jonas Salk and his team came through with a vaccine in 1955.
Polio has been gone from North America and Europe for decades, thanks to vaccination efforts, but getting babies vaccinated in more isolated parts of the world, where poverty and war have taken their toll, has been a challenge.
Rotary accepted the challenge in 1985 and made a promise to eradicate polio from the planet.Since then, the service club has kicked in $1.2 billion towards that goal and the world has never been so close to being polio-free. As a result, Rotary has kicked up its efforts to finish the job.
In January, Rotary answered the call from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to raise another $200 million, to go along with its $355 million grant. Rotary's response was $228 million and the fund is still growing, prompting the Gates Foundation to kick in another $50 million. That means there has been another $600-plus million devoted this year to wiping out polio.
That funding is significant to not only keep moving forward but to keep polio out of the countries where it has only been recently defeated. International health experts and the United Nations worry that a decline in funding, so close to the ultimate goal, could allow polio to creep back.
India was named polio-free in February for the first time, a massive accomplishment because of the country's size and population. Although still at risk from imported cases, health experts believed India to be the latest significant hurdle on the road to defeating polio.
There are now just three countries left where new cases of polio are reported - Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan.
Rotary has been pushing its End Polio Now campaign around the world with its website - endpolio.org -- and with the help of international celebrities and activists, including Bill Gates, Jackie Chan and Archbishop Desmond Tutu taking part in the "This Close" marketing campaign.
Starting today, Rotary will make an album of music available on iTunes, featuring artists from around the world, including Itzhak Perlman on violin, with the proceeds going towards the End Polio Now campaign.
The vaccine costs just 60 cents but there are two futures on the horizon for polio. It will either become the first human disease of the 21st century to be wiped out or it will return to dozens of countries, crippling millions, and making worthless the work of 20 million volunteers and billion of dollars in investment.
No child should be paralyzed from a disease so easy to prevent.