I’m Stewart Valin. I’m the president of Polio Quebec. I’ve been with Polio Quebec for 20 plus years.

It’s a great honour to speak to Rotary, and so many friends of Rotary. I view this engagement as an opportunity not to be wasted. It’s not every day when I get a chance to directly express appreciation and gratitude to significant forces —  Paul Martin and Rotary International —  for bringing the fight to polio. Rotary international has reached out in the global village and delivered brutal blow after brutal blow to the  Polio viruses. Right Honourable Paul Martin has taken a leading role and supported the eradication Initiative as a significant force in the campaign to end polio now. 

 In 1984 there were 350,000 confirmed cases of paralytic polio. This year, 35 years later, there’s been THREE confirmed cases of wild type polio.  About 11 to 12 million cases of paralytic polio have been avoided, and the programmes have saved  50,000 lives. Most all the deaths and victims paralyzed for life would have been children.

As we all know, we’re not done yet. 3 cases per year, isn’t the Rotary objective, « zero cases forever » is the promise.  In 1985 Rotary International launched the PolioPLus programme, and in 1988 Rotary was instrumental in the creation the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. When I read the mission statement for initiative I interpreted the initiative as: world leaders made a promise to children that there will come a time very soon, a time when no one is going to be hurt by the polio viruses again, and we don’t break our promises to children. 

In the last decade we have had another very good reason to finish off and vanquish the viruses from the world. Good people are dying bringing the vaccines to the most vulnerable. We’ll never know the actual numbers because of fears of reprisals if families reach out to world, but the death toll is in the hundreds. The vaccinators who have died were not bystanders caught in a firefight, a war, or some street battle. The people who died vaccinating children were sought out,  targeted and  gunned down. Dr. Bob Scott,  at a time he was the chair of the Rotary’s PolioPlus programme had the unsavoury experience of having an ak47 pointed at his heart while he was on a PolioPlus mission. In some parts of the world it’s bewildering and insane. but it’s obvious that even this violence is not going to stop the polio eradication initiative . 

We have a responsibility and an obligation to finish the job for the vaccinators who died bringing hope and a better life to our most vulnerable. We’re not going to let  the kids down, and we’re going to finish the job for the people who have lost their lives trying to make a better global village — these were really good people.

And then there’s the sons and daughters of polios.

Mr. Martin I understand your a part of leading role in Polio eradication — we have a shared upbringing, we both had fathers who were paralyzed by the viruses. Taking the fight to Polio is a very effective way to pay back the viruses for what they did to our dads. For many people, eradicating polio is the right thing to do, but for the sons and daughters of polios… it’s personal, it’s payback. 

Sally Aitkin, Helen D’Orazio and myself visited  you when you were finance minster, to interview you for the book Walking Fingers. You shared your personal narrative of a paralytic polio infection, ill for six months then a year and a half in recovery. It really didn’t seem to be that big a deal for you. Your recollections about your dad’s impairment, however, were quite poignant. And when you shared your narrative here in Montreal at a Rotary event in 2012… In the middle of your talk, while speaking about your father, you paused for a moment to gather your thoughts. Everyone in the audience was quite moved by the depth in your speech. 

When we had completed our interview with you for Walking Fingers, when we were leaving your office, Sally Aitkin turned around, supported by her walker, blocked the doorway, Sally looked you right in the eye and said, « We’re looking forward to having you as prime minister. » And a short time later, you were the right Honourable Paul Martin, 21st Prime Minister of Canada. As Prime Minister, the Canadian polio story continued, the Paul Martin government pledged, on behalf of  Canadians,  $10 million dollars for Polio Eradication, changing the face of Polio on the Globe…

I’d like to express to you and Rotary International, on behalf of the members of Polio Quebec, the sons and daughters of polios, and for my late father, « Thank you so very much. »

À propos

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