November 6

Kyle Poplin / James Militzer

Weekly Roundup 11-6-15: Rotary provides blueprint against disease, but passion’s hard to duplicate

Polio has almost totally been eliminated and Rotary International deserves much of the credit.

As an added bonus, this U.S.-based service organization composed of business and professional leaders has given the world a playbook to fight deadly diseases.

The playbook starts with passion and ends with partnerships.

The passion was baked into many Rotarians. Only a few decades ago, during a time many Rotarians still remember, polio crippled more than 35,000 people a year in the U.S. Many parents across the country were so frightened of the disease they wouldn’t let their children play outside.

Thanks to vaccinations given in a concerted effort, the U.S. became polio-free in 1979. That same year, Rotarians launched their own concerted effort – based on the success they’d already witnessed – to eliminate polio worldwide. It began with the purchase and delivery of vaccine to more than 6 million children in the Philippines, and continued with members raising money, lobbying politicians and mounting media campaigns.

Inroads were made, but as recently as 1988 there were still 350,000 cases of polio worldwide.

Rotary couldn’t do it alone, so it tapped into its business roots and set about organizing an extensive network of partnerships. The end result, as the below Devex video relates, is that polio is finally being “bulldozed” from history.

WHO, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative,  UNICEF, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – you name the global health organization, they were probably enlisted in the fight. But Rotary, with its passion born of firsthand experience, cranked up the machine that eventually buried polio.

One could argue that this passion born of familiarity – Rotarians seeing and hearing about their friends and neighbors impacted by polio – is what’s missing in the developed world’s war against malaria and tuberculosis and other killer diseases. Would anyone argue that if TB were pervasive in, say, California, it would be “neglected”?

To be clear, many organizations are fighting these extant diseases, and they’re doing wonderful work. But they haven’t clicked in at a grassroots level. In fact, these diseases are so far from the developed world’s mainstream consciousness that many people are conjuring up reasons not to take vaccines, using pseudoscience and anecdotes to defend their stance. These anti-vaxxers might not have ever seen things like polio-induced paralysis, so they allow themselves the logical leap of blaming proven vaccines for the unexplained deaths and illnesses they have seen, like autism. Their passion is fixated on the problem right in front of them, not half a world away.

So, while Rotary has given us a blueprint to fight diseases, it can’t provide the passion. Will that eventually be provided by video or photos, or through the instant communication that enables social media and shrinks the planet, culturally speaking? Only time will tell. Meanwhile, other preventable diseases besides polio aren’t being prevented.

– Kyle Poplin

Photo via PolioPlus Pakistan on Facebook.


Also in the news this week …


#ExxonKnew: Will it pay a price for cliMate change subterfuge?

Public outrage has been simmering since two recent blockbuster reports revealed that Exxon understood the fossil fuel industry’s role in climate change decades ago – while spending millions to stir public doubts about it. For a while, however, it looked like the story had run its course – to the dismay of climate activists like Bill McKibben, who was arrested for civil disobedience aimed at keeping the issue in the spotlight. But this week, the scandal made headlines again, as New York’s attorney general launched an investigation to determine whether the company deceived the public about the risks of climate change, or lied to investors about how these risks could affect its business.

Some legal experts believe the case could play out similarly to the lawsuits against tobacco companies in recent decades, which found that the industry misled the public about the health risks of smoking. Much like Exxon, these companies funded scientific research and public relations campaigns meant to sow doubts about the dangers posed by their main product. But since Exxon published extensive research over the years that supported the scientific consensus linking climate change to fossil fuels, a potential fraud prosecution could hinge on the role the company played in campaigns that sought to deny that link, and whether it disclosed the business risks of global warming to its investors.

In the short term, however the case plays out, it’s now clear that Exxon’s actions won’t escape full scrutiny. As McKibben put it, “I went to jail a few weeks ago because I was worried this (issue) might disappear. I’m not worried about that anymore.”

History is written by the winners – at least most of the time. In the long term, Exxon’s obfuscation is sure to be the subject of case studies and lessons learned for corporate social responsibility and environmental stewardship. And while Exxon might be the “winner” in terms of how it profited from obscuring the facts on climate change, the multinational won’t be the one writing the history this time.

– James Militzer


In Case You Missed It … We launched a new NextBillion this week

Since you’re reading this on the new site, well, you probably didn’t miss the fact that … it’s a new site. However, there are lots of features that we’d like to share. Here’s a list of them and our reasoning behind many of the changes we’ve made on NB. Let us know what you like, what you don’t and what we could do to make it better.

corporate social responsibility, infectious diseases