Poliomyelitis, or polio, is a paralysing and potentially fatal disease that still threatens children in some parts of the world. The polio virus 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. Unlike most diseases, polio can be eradicated.
For more than 30 years, Rotary and our partners have driven the effort to eradicate polio worldwide. Our PolioPlus program 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 (GPEI), Rotary focuses on advocacy, fundraising, volunteer recruitment, and awareness-building. Rotary members have contributed more than US$2.1billion and countless volunteer hours to protect more than 2.5 billion children in 122 countries from this paralysing disease. Rotary’s advocacy efforts have played a role in decisions by governments to contribute more than US$10 billion to the effort.
Polio Today
When Rotary and its partners formed the GPEI in 1988, there were 350,000 cases of polio in 125 countries every year. Today, we have reduced polio cases by 99.9 percent, and just two countries continue to report cases of wild poliovirus: Afghanistan and Pakistan. Because of the efforts of Rotary and its partners, nearly 19 million people who would otherwise have been paralysed are walking, and more than 1.5 million people are alive who would otherwise have died. The infrastructure we helped build to end polio is also being used to treat and prevent other diseases (including the 2019 Coronavirus Disease), and create lasting impact in other areas of public health.
Nigeria was the last African country to be declared free from wild polio late August, having accounted for more than half of all global cases less than a decade ago. The vaccination campaign in Nigeria involved a huge effort to reach remote and dangerous places under threat from militant violence and some health workers were killed in the process.
Rotary and our partners have made tremendous progress against polio, but eliminating all cases is going to take even more progress and perseverance. Afghanistan and Pakistan face unique challenges, including political insecurity, highly mobile populations, difficult terrain, and, in some instances, vaccine refusal and misinformation. With sufficient resources, the commitment of national governments, and innovations that improve access to remote areas, we are optimistic that we can eliminate polio.
Ensuring Success
Rotary has committed to raising U$50 million per year for polio eradication. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has pledged to match that 2-to-1, for a total commitment of US$150 million each year. These funds provide much-needed operational support, medical workers, laboratory equipment, and educational materials. Governments, corporations, and private donors all play a crucial role in funding.
Rotary in Action
More than 1 million Rotary members have donated their time and money to eradicate polio, and every year, hundreds of member’s work with health workers to vaccinate children in countries affected by polio. Rotary members work with UNICEF and other partners to prepare and distribute informational materials for people in areas that are isolated by conflict, geography, or poverty. They also mobilise to recruit fellow volunteers, assist in transporting the vaccine, and provide other logistical support.
Rotary in Tanzania
There are 42 active Rotary Clubs in Tanzania, 12 of which are based in Dar-es-Salaam and over the past years, Rotarians in Tanzania have contributed approximately Tshs. 874,000,000 (US$ 380,000) towards polio eradication to Rotary International.
A reason to celebrate!
The recent announcement by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that the African continent is now polio free, after four years without a case is such a historic milestone. This means that five of the six WHO regions – representing over 90 percent of the world’s population – are now free of the poliovirus, moving the world closer to achieving global polio eradication.
Rotary would like to congratulate the national governments of the 47 countries in the WHO African Region for the achievement and reiterates its commitment to ensuring that the global goal of eradicating polio is achieved.
As the WHO Director General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, ending wild poliovirus in Africa is one of the greatest public health achievements of our time and provides powerful inspiration for all of us to finish the job of eradicating polio globally.
Kudos to all partners involved including governments, health workers, community volunteers, traditional and religious leaders and parents across the region who have worked together to kick wild polio out of Africa.
Sharmila Bhatt
Past District Governor
Rotary International District 9211