The history of Rotary and polio eradication

Rotary has been fighting to eradicate polio for 33 years. They have set their sights on a polio-free world by the end of 2023.

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Cecil Padilla

March 2019 marked 33 years that Rotary International has been working to eradicate polio worldwide. In 1979, Rotary received a grant so its members could immunize 5 million children in the Philippines.

In 1985, with its 1.2 million-strong membership rooster, Rotary launched the Polio Plus challenge, the largestInternational coordinated private health initiative.

Rotary set a goal of raising $120 million within five years. At that time, polio was killing or crippling 100 children per day. By 1988, Rotarians had doubled their goal by raising $247 million, which caught the attention of the World Health Assembly, which in turn adopted a resolution to eradicate polio worldwide.

The last reported case of polio in the Americas was in 1991, and by 1994 the Western Hemisphere was declared polio-free. India’s first NID (National Immunization Day), at which 82 million children were vaccinated, was held in 1995, and in 1996, Nelson Mandela officially launched “Kick Polio out of Africa.”

Vaccines were given at toll booths, aboard public transportation, at schools, at makeshift booths on street corners, at marketplaces or anywhere there was a gathering of adults with children.

By 2002, 51 European countries were declared polio-free, and in 2006 four years later, the only polio-endemic countries were Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Nigeria.

By 2007, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation noticed Rotary’s commitment to end polio worldwide. The foundation offered Rotary a $100 million challenge, which was raised to a $355 million challenge in 2009, if Rotarians would raise $200 million by 2012. Rotary accepted the challenge, and six months before the deadline date, the service organization’s members had raised $211 million.

By 2012, when India joined the ranks of polio-free countries, Rotary had helped 2.5 billion children get immunized.In July 2016, Nigeria was declared polio-free.

Thus far over the span of 33 years, working to eradicating polio in the world, Rotarians have raised over $1.28billion to fight this crippling disease.

Today, Rotarians face challenges getting to remote villages (safely) in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the only countries where polio cases are still reported, and locating children between the ages of 6 months to 5 years of age to receive the vaccine.

Working hand in hand with the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and local government agencies, Rotary first set its sights on eradicating polio by 2005. That didn’t happen, so the goal was extended to 2010, then 2015 then 2019.

As of June 27th 2019, Afghanistan reported 8 case of the virus. Pakistan reported 24 for a total of 32 reported cases, and the “CHALLENGE CONTIUNES”

Today, all of the agencies involved have set their sights on December 2023 for a polio-free world.

Cecil Padilla is a member of the Rotary Club of Winters 


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