World Polio Day a time to reflect, resolve and respond
I have now been putting my time, dedication, passion and energy into polio eradication since almost this day in 2011 when my colleague at Global Poverty Project said they wanted someone to work with a famous former Indian cricketer on polio advocacy for the Australian cricketing summer of 2011/12.
To be very honest all I heard from that conversation was – cricket, summer and cricket.
Up until that point in my life I have been working for over 10 years in aid and development in some form and particularly education and global awareness. After accepting the exciting offer of taking on the cricket gig I then thought – hang on, what’s polio?
As someone who was born 6 years after the last case of polio in Australia, which was in 1972, what did I know about polio? I had a vague recollection of something called an iron lung, something to do with Rotary and had seen people in the streets of developing countries where I had lived and volunteered in who would push themselves around on the ground with bits of rubber car tire stopping abrasion with their skin and the ground.
What I did know deep down inside is that polio represented global injustice and inequality that I have always been passionate about and tried to address. I mean how could I be born into a polio-free country more than 30 years ago and that there are still children today without that same simple luxury.
So since November 2011 I have happily dedicated my life to advocating to see the global eradication of polio. It certainly hasn’t been selfless along the journey I have met cricketers (as was my first hope), including becoming close friends with that famous former Indian cricketer and polio survivor, Bhagwath Chandrasekhar. I have had the absolute privilege of learning and working with polio survivors, Rotarians, Government Ministers, UNICEF, WHO, Gates Foundation and many many others who I have tapped into their passion and dedication to become a part of the movement to see a polio-free world.
My polio (advocacy) journey has also taken me through a realm of different experiences and perspectives from Australia to the US, Canada, Pakistan, India, Aotearoa New Zealand, Brunei and currently Uganda where I am working on the Stop Transmission of Polio (STOP) program with UNICEF Uganda.
In this time there is plenty of good from collaborations with Government and Rotary to receiving beautiful mounds of information on the polio program and how it functions at the macro and micro level.
The bad is also there as we have seen currently with a major polio outbreak in the Horn Of Africa this year affecting more than 180 children.
The ugly certainly became apparent just after I left Pakistan when 9 vaccinators were killed in December last year and then an unbelievably generous man I met in the slums of Karachi, Waheed, who was providing not only polio immunisation for his community but also education, clean water, sanitation and a food program, and was murdered in the middle of this year.
But of all I have seen in polio eradication, in the very limited time I have been advocating on it, the most that stands out for me is the inspirational. I don’t have time or space to mention even a few of heroes here but I have continuously blogged about them and the collaborations, learning and actions that defy anything like it in history and blaze a path for more than just eradicating a disease.
While I know that polio eradication is just one of many important things in the world to address, and certainly not the one thing in the world I thought I would ever dedicate myself to for more than two years, it is a true show of what is possible and what needs to happen to overcome the injustice and inequality in the world and to not just eradicate a disease but build a platform for better community health and access and opportunity to everyone, everywhere and forever.
If you want to take action to see the end of polio consider the following:
- Look at the Polio Points concept (that I hope to be working on next year) and start thinking if this is something your school/workplace/institution might be interested in for next year – http://www.poliopoints.org/
- Use your voice and advocacy skills and support the wonderful work of The End of Polio campaign from the Global Poverty Project – http://www.theendofpolio.com
- If you have spare change of $1.5b for polio eradication (or a portion of it) then put it into the Global Polio Eradication Initiative with UNICEF and Rotary
- Be a skilled participant on the Stop Transmission of Polio (STOP) program run by CDC, WHO and UNICEF – http://www.cdc.gov/polio/stop/
PS. a huge heartfelt thank you to those who have enriched me in this journey – sorry it is general but it is a very big thank you…