Dr. Robert Scott
Rotary Foundation Trustee Chair for 2007-08
July 24, 2007 - The Trustee Chair Bhichai
Rattakul announced that he will resign as chair of The Rotary Foundation
Trustees on 1 August but will continue to serve as a trustee this
year. “I made this difficult decision to resign as chairman
because of issues related to my health and that of my wife,”
he said. “I deeply regret any inconvenience this unanticipated
change will cause.”
In keeping with the Foundation Bylaws,
Trustee Vice Chair Robert S. Scott, of the Rotary Club of Cobourg,
Ontario, Canada, will be trustee chair from 1 August through 30 June
2008. A past RI vice president and director, Scott has served RI and
the Foundation in many capacities over the years, most recently on
the International PolioPlus Committee, which he will continue to chair.
He also succeeded Herbert A. Pigman as volunteer director of the highly
successful 2002-05 polio eradication fundraising campaign.
In assuming the new leadership role,
Scott plans to continue the focus on the 2007-08 Foundation goals
to eradicate polio, support the Every Rotarian, Every Year initiative,
show that peace is possible through support of the Rotary Centers
for International Studies, and reconnect with Foundation alumni. “I
worked closely with Chairman Bhichai when he developed these goals,
and I strongly support all of them,” Scott said.
A conversation with
Robert S. Scott
Chair of The Rotary Foundation Trustees and chair of the International
The Rotarian, September 2007
Nothing steels the resolve
of physician Robert S. “Bob” Scott more than polio, a
disease long banished from industrialized nations but still paralyzing
children in some corners of the world.
A member of the Rotary Club of Cobourg, Ont., Canada, since 1971,
he’s a longtime active supporter of Rotary’s battle against
polio. Scott became chair of the International PolioPlus Committee
on 1 July 2006, replacing William T. Sergeant, who retired after 12
years in the office. He is also serving as chair of The Rotary Foundation
Trustees this year.
As his first year in Rotary’s top PolioPlus position came to
a close, Scott talked with Marla Donato, managing editor of The Rotarian
about the new strategy to eliminate the disease in the remaining four
endemic countries, recent positive news, and the critical need to
fulfill Rotary’s promise of a polio-free world.
Do you believe eradication
Oh, absolutely. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be continuing to persuade
Rotarians and the Rotary world to keep at it.
Where are we right now in terms of polio eradication?
To be frank, the progress in the last few years has been much slower
than expected. However, the virus is now only endemic in very discrete,
small areas of four countries – namely India, Pakistan, Afghanistan,
and Nigeria. It is endemic in two northern states of India, Bihar
and Uttar Pradesh; no more than six northern states of Nigeria; and
in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the border between the two countries.
What are the challenges in each of these areas?
The challenges are different in each small area in each country. In
January, PolioPlus adopted tailored approaches to reach the last children.
This is the single biggest development since the program was launched
in 1985. In northern Nigeria, for about a year, leaders stopped all
polio vaccinations to children. It was undoubtedly a political, cultural,
and partly a religious problem. That has now been resolved, and the
cases are dropping rapidly. Along with the polio drops, they are also
giving other vaccines – add-ons for diphtheria, measles –
and malaria nets, and this has proven very successful.
In India, it is the huge population we have to deal with. For example,
in Uttar Pradesh, there are more than five million births a year.
In northern India, children who are extremely malnourished have many
different viruses and bacteria, and the polio drops don’t always
produce the desired immunity because of these competing pathogens.
So the rounds of Subnational Immunization Days are now every month.
There has been some religious objection, but that has virtually melted
away. I met twice with the mullahs [Islamic clergy] last year. Great
follow-up by the Indian Rotarians has continued to result in very
few mothers and fathers denying their children the vaccine.
And in the remaining two countries?
In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the problem is the fighting. Polio has
a way of stopping fighting, because we have Days < of Tranquility,
where we negotiate with the warring factions so that we can vaccinate
their children. Especially in places like the Democratic Republic
of the Congo and Côte d’Ivoire, Rotarians were very much
part of stopping the fighting. I can’t say I’m quite as
hopeful about the Taliban in Afghanistan. They seem to have become
very warlike again. At one time, the Taliban were very much on our
side, and I’ve got some wonderful photographs of Taliban men
helping with vaccinations.
So what happened there?
Well, politics got in the road. However, Hamid Karzai, the president
of Afghanistan, formed and chairs the National Polio Action Group.
President Karzai receives reports on a regular basis, which has resulted
in only three cases in the first six months of this year.
Should people in countries where polio is no longer a threat still
vaccinate their children?
Absolutely. Every time I give a talk in North America or in Europe,
I say to the audience that they must ensure that their children and
grandchildren are vaccinated against polio. Because look what happened:
From Nigeria and India, there have been 64 exports of the virus to
other countries over the last several years, resulting in serious
outbreaks of polio. Eighty-two percent of the viruses came from Nigeria,
and the rest came from India. The cost, to date, is US$475 million.
The same could happen in the U.S. or Canada or Europe if routine immunization
is not kept at a high level. It is essential to have your children
vaccinated against all the preventable diseases, including polio.
Namibia last experienced an outbreak in 2006 that was unusual
because it was among adults. Was that a big surprise?
Well, those of us who are old enough remember that the poliovirus
used to affect adults as well. But it really is a disease of the younger
age group – five years and under. And that’s why, in the
old days, it was called infantile paralysis. We were scared, every
July, August, that we were next in line. Swimming pools and cinemas
were closed, and every fall there was always a rise in cases. Then,
of course, there were the huge epidemics in the late ’40s, early
How are we doing in funding for this final push?
The number-one problem in the eradication of polio is the lack of
How much money have we spent?
To date, the global investment in polio eradication has been more
than $5 billion through 2008. Rotary has provided nearly $620 million,
and we expect to have provided more than $670 million by the time
polio is certified as eradicated. At this moment, the PolioPlus Fund
has about $54 million left for further grants to the World Health
Organization and UNICEF.
And that will be enough?
No, not nearly enough. Our major problem is shortfalls, every year.
[Editor’s note: The current shortfall is $540 million over the
calendar years 2007 and 2008.] Along with WHO, UNICEF, and the United
Nations Fund, we’ve been very successful. The $5 billion has
mostly come from governments. The total from the United States at
the moment is over $1.2 billion. Then Rotary is second, at $620 million,
followed by the United Kingdom, Japan, and Canada.
What can Rotarians do? Are they experiencing donor fatigue?
As I travel the world and speak to many Rotary clubs and Rotary gatherings,
I find great enthusiasm is still present. I just wonder how much of
that enthusiasm carries over to the next day or to the next meeting.
What I would like to see in the ideal Rotary world would be for every
Rotary club, again, to have a polio committee. Many clubs have long
gone without polio committees. I would also like every district to
continue having a polio committee. There are districts that do not
have polio committees anymore, and this is unfortunate. This Rotary
year, I believe every Rotary club should have at least one meeting
on PolioPlus, and every district should make a donation to PolioPlus
When did this trend of clubs and districts eliminating polio committees
start becoming noticeable?
The last three or four years. There have been two campaigns that raised
a huge amount of money: $247 million the first campaign, $135 million
the second campaign. Every year, the PolioPlus Fund receives $1 million
to $2 million, even though there is no official campaign, from generous
Rotarians. Many incorrectly believe polio is eradicated, and therefore
many clubs and districts no longer have active PolioPlus committees.
Is polio still a main priority for The Rotary Foundation?
When Trustee Chair Bhichai Rattakul announced his goals for this Rotary
year, he stated that the number one would be communicating that polio
eradication is realistic. Last year, Trustee Chair Luis Giay made
polio the number-one emphasis. It should continue to be so, in my
opinion, until eradication is certified.
What kinds of questions come to you from Rotarians in the field?
The number-one question is why don’t we get enough publicity?
The number-two question is when do you think it’s going to finish?
I don’t give a date anymore. Initially, the eradication effort
was going very quickly. We started in 1985 with more than 125 countries,
and by the year 2000, we were down to only 20 countries. Then the
pace slowed, which was unexpected. Rotarians ask me many times, when
do you think we will finish? I have no idea. We will finish when that
last virus is eradicated. We have not failed. We have cleared out
99 percent of the virus from the world. Three WHO regions have been
certified polio-free, and type 2 poliovirus has not been detected
anywhere in the world for about nine years. It is likely eradicated.
That is a success in itself. It is not the final goal, but it is very
close to it. I’m convinced we can reach that final goal. I mean,
I’ve been at it long enough to be absolutely convinced that
we can do this, given enough funding.
And that question about publicity?
Rotary gets a tremendous amount of press worldwide, both in written
and TV reports. I go to India, and there’s press all over the
place. In the United States, Canada, and in Europe and the UK, we
don’t get that same publicity, because polio isn’t around.
People have forgotten about it. It isn’t the bad-news story
the press often like to pick up. My answer to the Rotarians who ask
that question is when did you last write to your newspaper about polio
and Rotary? That’s the number-one thing all Rotarians can do:
continually increase the advocacy in press, radio, television.
What do you think is the most important message for Rotarians?
In April, the representatives to the Council on Legislation from around
the world voted by a huge majority of 93 percent to continue polio
as the only corporate focus of Rotary International. Rotarians of
the world still believe in the eradication of polio and have voted
strongly in support. Now we must get mobilized, in all parts of the
Rotary world, yet again, to finally eradicate this disease, by making
sure polio committees are active, and support of PolioPlus Partners
is present in every district. Generally encourage the public; get
PolioPlus known again, especially among new Rotarians.
So what you really want is advocacy?
Advocacy to the governments and their ministers of finance, ministers
of health. Of course, Rotary, through the Polio Eradication Advocacy
Task Force, does lobby extensively. But if 1.2 million Rotarians phoned
their government and said “This is terrible, it’s a disgrace
that we haven’t eradicated polio,” I believe this could
have tremendous impact.
So this is a vote of confidence, so you can go to the governments
and say: “Look, we’re still unanimous. We’re in
it for the long haul.”
Yes. There are many good stories, you know? Very few cases left, very
few areas, in four countries. Dr. Margaret Chan, the new leader of
WHO, is very, very supportive of the polio eradication initiative
and of Rotary’s major role. She asked to meet with Rotary only
eight days after she was elected. Immediate Past RI President Bill
Boyd and I had a very fruitful meeting with her on 8 January. Another
positive sign, from Africa, was evident when President Boyd received
a letter from the new president of the African Union, who also happens
to be president of Ghana, giving us enormous support. In that letter,
he supports the polio program in every aspect, and he is willing not
only to support it but to advocate it to other leaders, especially
those in Africa and the G8 countries. We have had G8 support in the
past, and we’re hoping that will continue. The results of the
last meeting of this body were not encouraging. In truth, we must
have their support to finish eradication.
Any other good news?
Two articles [in the Lancet journal and Science magazine], pointing
out that over the long term, eradicating polio is much cheaper than
controlling it. Secondly, we’ve got vaccines that are much more
effective. Other research shows the new monovalent oral polio vaccine
type 1 is three times as effective as the original trivalent vaccine.
So there’s a great deal of positive news.
These researchers say it will cost three times as much to control
polio than to eradicate it – is that correct?
It could be much more, depending on how you control it. I always say
that we haven’t gotten it under control until we’ve eradicated
What would you tell the naysayers of the world?
I would say they are believing false or perhaps convenient science.
We have shown it is possible to eradicate polio. Every country that
has large numbers of children who are susceptible to polio due to
poor immunization schedules and has had an import of polio from India
or Nigeria has always, for a second time, eradicated polio. We know
how to eradicate polio. So, if you want to have up to 250,000 children
suffer from polio and a life of disability, carry on with a control
policy. But if you do not want that to happen, no matter what the
cost, eradicate polio.
What will happen if we go into control mode, in terms of both
financial and human suffering?
Be prepared that some children will get polio, some children will
die from polio, and most of the children who will die will be in the
poor countries. Not in the United States, not in Canada, because there
is good routine immunization. It is in the poorer countries where
routine immunization is very poor because they are unable to afford
it – they will have more cases of polio. So is it acceptable
to have 40,000 cases a year? Four hundred thousand? What’s acceptable?
Consider the cost overall, and the long-term cost of keeping these
poor children in crutches, wheelchairs, surgery to correct contractions
of muscles – an agonizing life. That’s what is being advocated.
Morally, to me, this is totally unacceptable.
What are some concrete actions that Rotarians can take?
Continue to educate and inform themselves on all aspects of the polio
eradication initiative. I am delighted to note that every Rotary institute
this year is having a presentation on polio. Following these institutes,
I ask the leadership to take the polio message home and give it to
the clubs, to fellow Rotarians. Keep polio in front of Rotarians until
they’re mad at you and, by inference, me. We gave a copy of
the Case for Finishing Polio Eradication to every district governor-elect
at the International Assembly in February. I had it re-sent to every
district governor with a letter asking them to please circulate it.
Get polio out there again – get it on the front burner of every
club and district. I asked district governors to send the case statement
out to all the clubs in their district. Well, I know it happened in
my own district, because my own governor sent it to me!
What’s the power of PolioPlus Partners?
Yes, that’s another positive thing Rotarians and districts can
do. Let me explain. Money donated to the PolioPlus Fund is funneled
through to WHO or UNICEF in grants authorized by The Rotary Foundation
Trustees. Money given to PolioPlus Partners is used by Rotarians.
It is money applied for by Rotarians in the four polio-endemic and
highest-risk countries that are having National Immunization Days
or Subnational Immunization Days. The moneys are used for social mobilization,
for the very well-known National Immunization Day uniform with its
Rotary colors, and other essentials, such as the whistles or hats
or crayons they give the children, or the megaphones or bicycles or
motorcycles. That money is Rotarians giving money directly to Rotarians.
Past RI President Chuck Keller and Trustee Lou Piconi are cochairs
of the PolioPlus Partners Task Force. They’ve done a fantastic
job of making the world knowledgeable about PolioPlus Partners and
how to donate to it. At this time, on all donated cash or District
Designated Fund contributions, there is a 50-cent match from the PolioPlus
In your travels around the world, what are some of the most inspiring
things you’ve seen?
Going to a National Immunization Day is a wonderful experience. You
see Rotarians really turned on, working with the community. Watching
the children line up, for example, in India at a vaccination booth,
and seeing all these little kids, being so good. They just stay in
a line; they hardly say a word. The bigger sisters bring the little
ones. The sad thing about it is, you can look at the back of the crowd,
and some of the kids are disabled, wearing braces – those for
whom we were too late, who, unfortunately, didn’t get the vaccine
before they got polio. It is that picture in my mind which makes me,
more than anything else, determined not to give up and to ensure as
best I can, as chair of the International PolioPlus Committee, to
remind all Rotarians of the promise we gave to the children of the
world: to eradicate this evil disease forever.
About The Rotary Foundation
The mission of The Rotary Foundation
is to enable Rotarians to advance world understanding, goodwill and
peace through the improvement of health, the support of education
and the alleviation of poverty. The Rotary Foundation is a not-for-profit
corporation that is supported solely by voluntary contributions from
Rotarians and friends of the Foundation who share its vision of a
The Foundation was created in 1917 by Rotary International's sixth
president, Arch C. Klumph, as an endowment fund for Rotary "to
do good in the world." It has grown from an initial contribution
of US$26.50 to more than US$117.9 million contributed in 2004-05.
Its event-filled history is a story of Rotarians learning the value
of service to humanity.
The Foundation's Humanitarian Programs
fund international Rotary club and district projects to improve the
quality of life, providing health care, clean water, food, education,
and other essential needs primarily in the developing world. One of
the major Humanitarian Programs is PolioPlus, which seeks to eradicate
the poliovirus worldwide. Through its Educational Programs, the Foundation
provides funding for some 1,200 students to study abroad each year.
Grants are also awarded to university teachers to teach in developing
countries and for exchanges of business and professional people. Former
participants in the Foundation's programs have the opportunity to
continue their affiliation with Rotary as Foundation Alumni.
For more information on current Foundation program awards and financial
status see the Rotary Foundation Fact Card and the Rotary Foundation
Annual Report, both of which are available for download.
Here is a sampling of what some Rotarians, Foundation alumni, and
About Educational Programs
- The Educational Programs Division of The Rotary Foundation exists
to achieve understanding and world peace through the exchange of people
internationally. It is the specific mission of the Educational Programs
Division to provide quality programs and services to those individuals
who apply for funding and logistical support to undertake a term of
study or teaching abroad that is enhanced by becoming involved with
Rotary before, during, and after their travel. The division, in conjunction
with Rotarians, Rotary clubs, and Rotary districts, shall provide
its assistance through scholarship, fellowship, and grant processes.
The Educational Programs (Ambassadorial Scholarships, Group Study
Exchange, Rotary Peace & Conflict Studies, Rotary Grants for University
Teachers) foster peace by building understanding through person-to-person
contact, friendship, study, and cross-cultural exchange.