SEATTLE — Once upon a time, polio was one of the most devastating and feared diseases for children in the world. The highly transmittable disease causes muscle weakness, usually in the legs, and can result in paralysis and even death. Dr. Jonas Salk debuted a vaccine for the terrible disease in 1955, and the worldwide incidence has been dropping sharply ever since. Today, there are less than 40 cases worldwide. The unlikely pair of Bill Gates and John Cena are joining forces to end polio once and for all.
John Cena may not seem like the obvious hero in the global fight to end polio. The WWE star took on a new challenge in the form of polio by becoming an ambassador for Rotary. This organization has been fighting to eradicate polio since 1979. Their campaign has reduced the incidence of polio by 99.9 percent. As a Rotary ambassador, Cena works on the advocacy side of the issue by raising awareness with his signature tough guy attitude.
An unlikely partner for Cena, tech mogul and philanthropist Bill Gates is adding his muscle to the donation side of the cause. Ending polio is one of the many efforts that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation supports with their generous donations. Fifteen years ago, the Gates donated $1 million to Rotary. Now, to eradicate the final 0.1 percent of polio cases, Bill Gates has pledged $100 million per year over the next three years.
The Dynamic Duo
Bill Gates and John Cena are joining forces to end polio and, by doing so, are setting an example for the world. Their methods are the same as those used at the grassroots level by organizations such as The Borgen Project. The success of these efforts to vastly reduce the incidence of polio demonstrates the viability of individual involvement.
This situation also highlights the limitations that even the wealthiest individuals and the most effective charities face. While international groups, most notably Rotary, have been fighting polio since the 1950s, the United States managed to become polio-free in 1979 thanks in part to President Truman’s call to action. The political level remains the most effective channel for reducing conditions of global poverty such as disease.
As long as a single case of polio exists, the risk of the disease remains. Fortunately, intense efforts have reduced polio to less than 40 cases in Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Rotarians have eradicated the disease in 122 countries and immunized 2.5 billion children against polio. With the joint forces of Bill Gates and John Cena, the end of polio appears closer than ever.
– Bret Serbin