Some 1.2 million Rotarians worldwide celebrated World Polio Day on Sunday.
When Rotary and its partners launched the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in 1988, there were 350,000 cases of polio in 125 countries every year. Since then, thanks to widespread vaccination campaigns, great progress against the disease has been made.
Poliomyelitis, or polio, is a paralysing and potentially fatal disease that still threatens children in some parts of the world. Poliovirus invades the nervous system and can cause total paralysis in hours. It can strike people of any age but mainly affects children under five. Polio can be prevented by vaccines, but it is not curable. However, unlike most diseases, polio can be eradicated.
“Those my age still remember the terror spread by cases of polio on our island in the 1950s. Intense vaccination campaigns were carried out to prevent the spread of the disease,” said Patricia Salomone, president of Rotary Club La Valette Malta. “Children queued up in endless rows to be vaccinated in schools and nobody, seeing the seriousness of the disease, dared contest the power of the vaccination.”
Today, polio cases have been reduced by 99.9 per cent, and just two countries continue to report cases of wild poliovirus – Afghanistan and Pakistan. For more than 30 years, Rotary and its partners have driven the effort to eradicate polio worldwide.
Rotary’s PolioPlus programme was the first initiative to tackle global polio eradication by vaccinating children on a massive scale. As a core partner in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, Rotary International focuses on advocacy, fundraising, volunteer recruitment and awareness-building.
Rotary members have contributed more than $2.2 billion and countless volunteer hours to protect nearly three billion children in 122 countries from this paralysing disease. Rotarian volunteers have personally risked their lives taking the life-saving vaccines to the most remote parts of the world, and
Rotary’s advocacy efforts having played a decisive role in decisions by governments to contribute more than $10 billion to the effort.
Each year, every Rotary Club in the world contributes to the Polio Plus Fund. In 2020, in a world where there still were those who refused vaccination against COVID-19, the anti-polio vaccination push saw polio eradicated from the continent of Africa.
Still, the wild poliovirus remains endemic in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Without full funding and political commitment, this paralysing disease could return to polio-free countries, putting children everywhere at risk.
With polio nearly eradicated, Rotary remains committed to the end and has committed to raising US$50 million each year to support global polio eradication efforts. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has pledged to match that two-to-one, for a total yearly contribution of $150 million.
Visit endpolio.org to learn more about Rotary and support the fight to eradicate polio.