Together We End Polio
World Polio Day was established by Rotary International over a decade ago to commemorate the birth of Jonas Salk, who led the first team to develop a vaccine against poliomyelitis. Rotary spearheaded a vaccination campaign at a time when there were over 1,000 polio cases a day in 125 countries, paralysing and killing children. Over the last 30 years Rotary has donated US$1.8 billion to the eradication effort and has protected over 2.5 billion children from the disease through vaccination programmes and that the Club has been one of the largest contributors throughout the United Kingdom, in some years the largest donor. To sustain this progress Rotary has committed to raising US$50 million per year over 2017-2020 in support of global polio eradication efforts. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will match Rotary’s commitment 2:1 so every £1 raised becomes £3.
Over these 30 years the incidence of polio has plummeted by more than 99.9%, from about 350,000 cases a year and the number of endemic countries dropping from 125 to just 3 Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. Whilst tremendous progress has been made- there were only 22 cases in 2017- the final steps on any journey are often the some of the hardest and 2018 has been far from easy, with 20 cases in the first 10 months of the year. Rotary members are key players in many aspects of the polio programme including on the ground in a number of countries as well as fundraising and advocacy.
Without full funding and political commitment, this paralysing disease could return to previously polio-free countries, putting children everywhere at risk. Extensive global environmental sampling around the world has made highlighting and mobilising against threats to eradication easier, more targeted and often more effective but with 5 outbreak countries and 15 key at risk countries emphasises the challenges facing the world in ensuring that polio becomes just the second human disease ever to be eradicated. The end is in sight if we keep going.