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WENATCHEE — The fight against polio, which crippled or killed millions of children all over the world, began right here in Wenatchee, in part because of the efforts of Dr. Ed Cadman, who served as president-elect and president of Rotary International from 1984-86 when the humanitarian organization decided enough was enough.
From 350,000 children a year diagnosed with polio worldwide down to only five cases this year is reason to celebrate, said Michael McGovern, chair of Rotary’s International PolioPlus Committee, who spoke recently at a Wenatchee Rotary’s “Million Dollar Dinner” event to honor Dr. Cadman and commemorate the 100th year of the Rotary Foundation.
“We are so close to eradicating polio,” McGovern said. After small pox, polio would be only the second disease in human history completely eliminated. While the last case of polio in the U.S. was in 1979, India reached the mark only six years ago.
McGovern was in Calcutta weeks ago to meet a 7-year-old girl – the last child diagnosed with polio in India.
“Before her, 25 million children were born a year at risk for polio,” he said. “Since her, there were 150 million children born in India who don’t have to worry about it.”
In Pakistan, where some of the few remaining cases are found, McGovern visited a polio vaccination clinic where he met a man who appeared to be a polio survivor.
McGovern soon learned, though, that this man walked with a cane because he had been shot in both legs as retribution for being a polio vaccine worker. And he was still working in the center after getting shot. In Pakistan, 150 polio workers have been killed for delivering life-saving vaccines. McGovern explained that the vaccine is not the target – government is. “They want to show that government is not in charge.”
Pakistan and Afghanistan are the hardest places to access and the only places so far this year with any remaining cases. Northern Nigeria also saw some polio diagnoses last year in regions where boko haram terrorizes villages.
Ever since Cadman’s leadership in the 1980s, Rotary has teamed with the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to attack polio head on. McGovern said the experts “laughed at us,” when Cadman helped bring the idea of a massive polio project to their attention. Then they came back with the organization’s first down payment: $125 million. “Suddenly, they wanted to listen to us.“
Since the program’s launch, Rotary has raised $1.6 billion for immunizations and will continue to help deliver more than 400 million vaccinations a year even after the world’s last case to ensure polio never returns. “As long as there is one case anywhere, it could come back,” McGovern said. “There is no cure. That’s why it’s so important to use the vaccine.” Without vaccines, 200,000 cases a year could reemerge.
The “critical” challenge now is proposed cuts to the U.S. budget that would affect programs that help provide the polio vaccine. The president’s outline calls for cutting the international affairs budget by about 30 percent. “It’s something we are very concerned about,” McGovern said, explaining that eliminating polio worldwide is beneficial for the U.S.“It would be very expensive if polio comes back.”
Wenatchee Rotary, Dr. Cadman’s home club, recently hosted the first of two “Million Dollar Dinners” to raise funds for the Rotary Foundation’s centennial of “100 years of doing good in the world.”
“The final numbers reported were $1,571,684.03,” said Greg MacKinnon, Endowment Chair of District 5060 and Co-chair of the Rotary District 5060 Million Dollar Dinner.
“There has never been this much raised for our Rotary Foundation in new bequests or outright contributions in our district. We can all be very proud,” said Wenatchee Rotary President and co-chair of the Million Dollar Dinner, Jim Russell. “We are honored by the generosity of this District and the many supporters who have worked as a supporting team.” The overall total included more than $1 million from the U.S. portion of the district, which covers much of central Washington and north into Canada.
The Million Dollar Donations included funds raised for the Ed Cadman Polio Tribute Fund to highlight the role Cadman played in the polio eradication project. Cadman’s sons Ed Cadman, Jr., Matt Cadman and his wife Camille and daughter Sue Rose and her husband were special guests.
With matching funds from President Russell and Confluence Health used to increase donations, the Tribute Fund raised a little over $55,500 to commemorate Cadman becoming Wenatchee Rotary President a little over 55-and-a-half years ago.
The Ed Cadman Polio Tribute Fund at is accepting donations until June 30.