The Paralympics are fast approaching and with 2.2 million tickets sold out of the 2.5 million available and with 165 countries competing, 19 more than in Beijing, it is set to be the biggest and most successful Paralympics yet.
One of the athletes hoping to take part is Anne Wafula-Strike, a phenomenal wheelchair sprint athlete and former member of team GB. Anne was Born in Mihuu Kenya and came to the UK in April 2000, started racing in 2002 and in 2004 became the first ever Kenyan to represent her country in her chosen sport. Following a successful application for British citizenship in 2006, Anne became a member of Team GB.
Anne's story is an incredible inspiration, and shows how her drive, focus, talent and belief have helped her to break records and live out her sporting dreams on the greatest possible stage. However, her life was irrevocably changed at the age of two when she contracted polio. This disability has not hindered her, and she has risen up to the challenge of paralysis to become an Olympic athlete. Unfortunately though, the same cannot be said for everyone who contracts this terrible disease.
In extreme cases, polio can cause paralysis in the limbs but can affect the lungs and make it difficult to breath, and in these without urgent medical care those affected can die. Polio can destroy a person’s life by preventing them from getting jobs or being able to start a family.
Decades ago, polio was a real risk to thousands of children in the UK. However, thanks to comprehensive immunization it is a thing of the past in the UK, proving that with the right funding and enough political will, we can prevent and eradicate polio.
In the 1980s Rotary International had the vision to seek the end of polio once and for all. They were the first to believe that children everywhere no longer needed to live their lives with a disability because of a disease we know how to prevent. Their campaign moved millions of people across the globe and inspired governments everywhere to give to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI). The success was phenomenal. Since 1988 the number of polio-endemic countries has reduced from 125 to just 3, and the number of polio cases has reduced by 99% , leaving only 1% left for us to tackle.
Progress so far has been made by ensuring that sufficient vaccines, which effectively prevent polio are available, as well as plenty of health workers and volunteers trained to deliver them. But these measures are expensive, and GPEI now needs at least $240m by January 2013 to just continue operating. Filling this funding gap is critical because having polio anywhere means we the threat of polio being everywhere.
Ending polio means ensuring no child has to live a life of disability from a disease we know how to prevent. but means that the tools and tactics that are developed to give polio vaccinations to children in some of the poorest urban slums, and some of the most remote rural regions will be available to use for other vaccination programs, leaving a positive global legacy beyond simply polio.
The UK has been a world leader in the fight against polio but our funding commitment ends this year. As we head into autumn, we still don’t know if or when the government might announce further funding for GPEI and we don’t know how much is being considered. Therefore we’re calling on people to email Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell MP and call on him to urgently confirm the UK’s future funding contribution in the battle against polio and to at least match 2012 levels of funding.
The Paralympics are a chance to admire the progress and achievement of amazing athletes from across the world, but it is also a chance to admire the amazing progress we have made in the fight to end polio. As such we’re delighted to be partnering with Rotary International to support an English Garden Party event they are holding on Thursday the 30th of August to celebrate the opening of the Paralympics, and to meet with some of the participating athletes who have been afflicted by polio.
The event will act as an important moment to remember that despite the amazing achievements of so many Paralympians with polio, it is a disease that we know how to prevent no one need endure it in the future. With only 1% of cases left, now is the time to act to end polio for good.