GIG HARBOR ROTARIAN DENNIS “DENNY” WILFORD FEATURED AT WORLD POLIO DAY AT GATES FOUNDATION
At the Gates Foundation Discovery Center World Polio Day 2023: Let’s Make Polio History event Tuesday, October 24th, Gig Harbor Rotarian Denny Wilford was able to share a wealth of empathy, experience, and emotion of making literal life saving impacts throughout the world. Event moderator, Penny Legate, former TV anchor for KIRO TV, asked Denny how he feels when providing the life changing two drops of polio vaccine.
Denny replied, “To hold a baby and know they will never have polio by putting those two drops in their mouth is the most rewarding feeling.” Penny noted, “Denny, you’ve made a huge difference through the simplicity of those two drops.
Polio has been with us since time immemorial. It mostly affects children under 5 years old. Two hundred people can be silently infected with polio, but only one may be impacted by the debilitating effects. Rotary has been working on the eradication of the disease for over 35 years.
There are now multiple worldwide organizations working to eradicate polio. Throughout the evening, panelists referred to GPEI. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is a public-private partnership led by national governments with six partners – the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Gavi, the vaccine alliance. Its goal is to eradicate polio worldwide.
Panelist Ezra Teshome, also a local Rotarian who has been leading vaccination campaigns in Ethiopia for over 20 years, echoed Denny’s comments that traveling to Ethiopia, Uganda, and other countries throughout the world, providing the polio vaccine is a “life-changing experience…when saving children, we’re able help them save themselves.”
Tehniyat Khan from the Gates Foundation’s polio team working to end polio in Afghanistan and Pakistan, noted the critical dialog with community leaders to develop trusting relationships. As Denny has previously noted, “The local people have some knowledge of where to find a family compound. So eventually, we would find all of these places, and they’d bring the kids out from underneath the shade trees and bushes, or we’d go into their houses to administer their oral vaccinations.”
Polio struck Denny Wilford early. He was only nine months old. But from that early blow, Denny grew to walk tall and brave in his lifelong fight to eradicate polio and save countless other children from the same fate.
Denny’s commitment to eradicating polio led him to start a nonprofit called “Just 2 Drops.” “Just 2 drops” because that’s all it takes of the polio vaccine to prevent one child from getting polio. Generous grants from Rotary International and the Gig Harbor Midday Rotary Club have also helped fuel Denny and his team’s fight to eradicate polio in Ethiopia and Uganda. Lives are literally changed by Wilford, Rotary, other GPEI members, and the volunteers who provide those life-changing two drops, along with safe drinking water, sanitation, medical care, and more.
Rotary members have contributed more than $2.1 billion and countless volunteer hours to protect nearly 3 billion children in 122 countries from this paralyzing disease. Rotary’s advocacy efforts have played a role in governments’ decisions to contribute more than $10 billion to the effort.
Today, polio remains endemic only in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But it’s crucial to continue working to keep other countries polio-free. If all eradication efforts stopped today, within ten years, polio could paralyze as many as 200,000 children each year.