With just 11 confirmed polio cases so far in 2017, the world is on the brink of eradicating polio, a vaccine-preventable disease that once paralysed hundreds of thousands of children each year.
To recognise this historic progress, Rotary clubs worldwide hosted events in conjunction with Rotary International’s fifth annual World Polio Day celebration on October 24. This year, the event was co-hosted by Rotary and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation at the foundation’s headquarters in Seattle. The programme featured an update on the global fight to end polio and an array of guest speakers, celebrities and public health experts. The event was livestreamed at endpolio.org/worldpolioday.
“Rotary and its partners are closer than ever to eradicating polio,” said Michael K McGovern, Chair of Rotary’s International PolioPlus Committee, which leads the organisation’s polio eradication efforts. “World Polio Day is the ideal opportunity to celebrate our successes, raise public awareness and talk about what is needed to end this paralysing disease for good.”
Without full funding and political commitment to eradication, the disease could return to countries that are now polio-free and put children everywhere at risk. Rotary is giving $49.5 million in grants to support immunisation and surveillance activities led by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. Some of the funds will support efforts to end polio in the three countries where polio remains endemic: Afghanistan ($9.32 million), Pakistan ($8.94 million) and Nigeria ($7.71 million). Further funding will support efforts to keep six vulnerable countries polio-free: Chad ($2.37 million), the Democratic Republic of Congo ($4.5 million), Guinea ($961,000), Somalia ($1.62 million), South Sudan ($3.77 million) and Sudan ($2.56 million). An additional $7.74 million will go toward surveillance activities in Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean region.
In a show of solidarity and to raise awareness and funds for polio eradication, Rotary clubs around the globe hosted nearly 1,900 events for World Polio Day.
“To protect all children from polio, world governments and donors must see through their commitments to fund critical work and support rigorous disease surveillance in both endemic and at-risk polio-free countries,” said McGovern. Rotary has committed to raising $150 million over the next three years, which will be matched 2-to-1 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, yielding $450 million for polio eradication activities, including immunisation and surveillance.
Rotary started its polio eradication programme PolioPlus in 1985, and in 1988 became a partner in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, along with WHO, UNICEF and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation later became a partner, too. Since the initiative was launched, the incidence of polio has plummeted by more than 99.9 per cent, from about 350,000 cases in 1988 to just 37 cases in 2016. Rotary has contributed a total of more than $1.7 billion — including matching funds from the Gates Foundation — and countless volunteer hours to protect more than 2.5 billion children in 122 countries from polio.