Ed note. This is a special guest post from Ramesh Ferris, a polio survivor, a Rotarian, and author of the book Better Than a Cure, One Man’s Journey to Free the World of Polio. @rameshferris.
Five years ago today I sat excitedly on my 27-speed hand-cycle, about to embark on one of the most challenging physical, mental and emotional journeys of my life. On April 12, 2008, the Cycle to Walk dream became a reality. I pushed off from mile zero of the trans-Canada highway in Victoria, British Columbia, destined for Cape Spear Newfoundland and Labrador, 7140 km away. As a polio survivor who lost use of his legs as a small child, my dream was to hand-cycle across Canada and wake up our global community to the fight against the horrible but preventable disease.
Cycle to Walk took me 174 days across Canada, where I had the honour of speaking about polio and polio vaccines to thousands of Canadians in public schools, universities, Rotary clubs and churches. I saw Canadians open their hearts, doors and wallets. People’s generosity spanned from providing meals and places to stay for the enroute team, to donating to their Rotary Clubs to support polio eradication efforts, to telling friends that they should get their children vaccinated. People came to the sides of the roads showing their support for a polio-free world. I even saw my own Government of Canada increase funding for polio eradication in Afghanistan.
Today, the progress being achieved against polio is amazing. India is officially off the polio endemic list because of the will and determination of its people to reach all children with life-saving vaccines. Leaders in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria, the three countries where polio remains endemic, have launched emergency polio action plans. There have been increased funding commitments and new partnerships involving the private and public sectors. Rotarians worldwide, 1.3 million strong, continue to make polio eradication their number one priority A new wave of global citizens and polio eradication champions has been born from the great work of the Global Poverty Project and its End of Polio Campaign.
I’ve always believed that eradicating polio is possible if we truly put our minds to achieving the goal. This week, I was heartened to learn that more than 400 leading scientists, hailing from 75 countries, agree. They issued the Scientific Declaration on Polio Eradication,calling on the world to seize the historic opportunity to end the disease for all time. The world is closer than ever to stopping polio, thanks to two effective vaccines and new efforts to deliver them to all children at risk.
We have much to be thankful this April 12, as we are more than 99.% of the way to seeing the end of polio. But it’s not yet time to celebrate. We must put our energy into finishing this disease forever!