Cochrane Rotarians rally to eradicate polio

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, December 4, 2002

Cochrane coffee companion Richard Benedictson ranks at the top of his sport, fast draw. His speed and accuracy with a .45 competition revolver made him British Columbia Provincial B champion this year and earned him second place in last year's Canadian Nationals held right here in Cochrane. His fastest speed from holster to target is .4 seconds. And how about that two-gun fancy gun spinning that never ceases to amaze audiences? He ranks among the best in the world in that, too. Such dexterity!

Not bad for a fellow who, one day in 1953 and barely a teenager, wasn't sure if he'd ever be able to move his arms again. Living in Winnipeg at the time, he was paralyzed with a disease that used to spread fear across North America, and even today continues to terrorize many in Asia and Africa:


"Before I went to bed that night, I remember the radio announcer saying Winnipeg schools would be closed immediately because of the polio epidemic," Richard told me recently. "When I woke up the next morning, I couldn't move. I'd come down with polio, too."

He was more fortunate than some. Winnipeg was the epicenter of the epidemic, and while many of his buddies developed permanent paralysis, wound up in iron lungs, or died, Richard experienced only temporary paralysis of his upper body and for a couple of years afterward had trouble swallowing. He's pretty much free of the effects almost 50 years later.

But he is not free of his concern for others who might contract the dreaded disease. "For me, this is a passion," said Cochrane's newly-elected president of Rotary for 2004–05.

To Richard's delight, Rotary International is committed to the worldwide eradication of polio by 2005 through PolioPlus. He was proud to tell me the story behind one of the largest public health initiatives in history.

The service organization launched PolioPlus in 1985. Through their early efforts, Rotary raised nearly $250 million to purchase polio vaccine as their part in a global campaign to immunize children.

In 1988 the World Health Organization got solidly behind the cause. UNICEF and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are also partnered with Rotary in eradicating polio.

How successful has the campaign been so far? In 1988 there were 350,000 cases of polio in 125 countries, Richard said. By 2001, that number had dropped to 600 cases in 10 countries in southern Asia and equatorial Africa.

According to one Rotary publication, "More than two billion children have been immunized, and four million spared death or paralysis."

But the job's not done till the poliovirus can no longer claim any more victims, Richard explained.

Bill Gates clearly agrees with Richard. Earlier this year, Rotary received the $1 million 2002 Gates Award for Global Health. During the award ceremony, according to Polio News, Microsoft's founder declared:

"Every time we see a world leader administering polio vaccine to a child, or hear about a war being stopped somewhere so children can be vaccinated, we can thank Rotary for demonstrating how much can be accomplished when a group selflessly uses every ounce of the political capital at its disposal to improve the health of the world's poorest children."

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan also agrees. "Our race to reach the last child is a race against time," he has said. "If we do not seize the chance now, the virus will regain its grip and the opportunity will elude us forever."

Contributions through PolioPlus cover the cost of vaccines, laboratory equipment and surveillance systems, and delivery. (Two drops of oral polio vaccine are all that are needed to protect a child.) So far, Rotary has raised nearly $500 million dollars as their part in the cooperative effort. They are looking for another $80 million to wrap things up.

The target year for the eradication of polio, 2005, is the 100th anniversary of Rotary. What a great way for a great organization to celebrate their centennial.

For more information on what you can do to help eradicate polio from the face of the earth, give Richard a call at 932-3115, or check out the Rotary Web site,

© 2002 Warren Harbeck

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