Polio Eradication – Are We There Yet?

Did you know Rotary’s top philanthropic goal is to eradicate polio worldwide?  Since 1985, Rotary members have contributed more than $900 million and countless volunteer hours to help immunize more than two billion children in 122 countries. Rotary has also been a spearheading partner in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative since 1988, along with the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is also a key supporter of the initiative.  Rotarians have worked to match a $355 million challenge grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Rotary and its partners have reduced polio cases by 99 percent worldwide, from 350,000 cases in 1988 to less than 2,000 in 2008!  An estimated five million children have been spared disability, and over 250,000 deaths averted.  However, polio continues to threatens children in parts of Africa and South Asia, and remains endemic in Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan.

Rotary club members worldwide are cautiously celebrating a major milestone in the global effort to eradicate polio. India, until recently an epicenter of the wild poliovirus, has now gone for more than one year without recording a new case of the disease. India’s last reported case was a two-year-old girl in West Bengal State in January 2011. The country recorded 42 cases in 2010, and 741 in 2009.

The world must remain committed in order to achieve a polio-free world. The threat of polio anywhere is a threat to children everywhere.  If we don’t stay the course, experts say polio could rebound to 10 million cases in the next 40 years, negating the world’s $6 billion global investment.

Rotary is committed to fighting polio until every child is safe from this devastating disease.  In addition to Rotary’s fundraising efforts, hundreds of Rotary members travel at their own expense every year to join fellow Rotarians in polio-affected countries to immunize children against polio during national campaigns.

Posted by:  Dr. Laura Hills, President Rotary Club of Fairfax

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