By John Whitmire, CARE Advocate
Last month, I had the pleasure of listening to a remarkable speech by Minda Dentler at the Rotary International Convention in Atlanta. Born in India and raised in Spokane by adoptive American parents, Minda completed the Ironman World Championships in 2013 in under 15 hours.
Using only her arms.
This was no stunt, but showed the amazing determination of a woman who had contracted polio as a baby, which ultimately left her legs paralyzed. This tremendous obstacle, however, did not deter her from setting remarkable goals and working strenuously to attain them, ultimately utilizing a handcycle and racing wheelchair to complete the Ironman.
As a fellow citizen advocate for CARE and its mission of working to combat the roots of extreme poverty, you have no doubt heard many stories of this sort – women and girls around the world who, despite incredible economic, medical, or other hurdles – have nevertheless accomplished remarkable goals. And you have no doubt also done the same imaginative work I have, of thinking about the even greater goals and achievements they might reach if they just had access to a hand up here and there.
As one of the world’s roughly 1.2 million Rotarians – community leaders committed to the motto of “Service Above Self” in our pursuit of projects focusing on peace and conflict resolution, disease prevention and treatment, water and sanitation, maternal and child health, basic education and literacy, and economic and community development – I’m particularly proud of our efforts to end the scourge of polio. In 1985, when polio impacted 350,000 people every year, Rotary launched its signature PolioPlus program, committing to wipe this disease from the face of the earth.
Since then, Rotarians have focused immense time, energy, and resources on the eradication of polio worldwide. Rotary International was one of the founding partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, and today, through the combined efforts of Rotary International, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and partner governments, we have seen this disease brought to the brink of extinction, with only 6 reported cases of wild poliovirus thus far in 2017 in the entire world (GPEI).
This is clearly not a case in which a dollar spent somewhere else in the world is a dollar we don’t use for our own country. Rather, given polio’s rapid-spread potential, every dollar we invest in a polio free world, is an investment not just in the wellness of children in other parts of the world, but in the health of my own daughters, Cassie and Allie – and, indeed, in all the world’s children. Every dollar is a promise that we will not tolerate a world in which they or any other children can be paralyzed or killed by a disease that we have the knowledge, the will, and the means to combat.
As Bill and Melinda Gates note in their 2017 letter to Warren Buffett, “saving children’s lives is the best deal in philanthropy… And if you want to know the best deal within the deal – it’s vaccines.” That’s because every dollar spent on childhood immunizations gets $44 in economic benefits. And that, of course, is a return on investment above and beyond the primary goal – of saving children’s lives. As Bill Gates reiterated in his plenary address to the RI Convention, 122 million children’s lives have been saved in the last quarter century by decreasing the childhood mortality rate from its 1990 level. 122 million. And each one of those has a name, a life, a story of her own.
That’s why I was so disappointed to see the administration’s proposed cuts in the US international affairs budget (and elsewhere) for FY 2018. US government funding of the polio eradication effort comes from two primary sources: USAID and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Kaiser Family Foundation). Both of these are targeted for massive cuts: 17% for the CDC (Washington Post) and potentially much more from USAID, which the administration proposes folding into the State department. In total, the budget cuts $2.2 billion, or roughly 26%, from global health efforts like the polio eradication campaign (NPR).
I hope that you, like I, am troubled enough by these proposed cuts to reach out to your members of Congress and encourage them to continue supporting at least the 1% of the US budget that goes to foreign assistance. As the Rotary campaign has it, we are this close to ending polio. Now is not the time to scale back our global health efforts. My children – and yours – are depending on us.