Making Polio History
Rotary International has been at the heart of the fight against polio making this mammoth task its top priority since 1979. Bill Gates announced on 22 January that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation were extending their long-term fundraising partnership with Rotary. Under the agreement, Rotary has committed to raising $50 million a year over the next three years and each dollar will be matched with an additional 2 dollars by the Gates Foundation. Polio is on the verge of becoming the 2nd human disease in history to be eradicated. This critical funding helps ensure that children in at-risk countries are protected from polio and it is eliminated in the last two countries that continue to report cases.
Announcing the extension Bill Gates said: “The Gates Foundation’s longstanding partnership with Rotary has been vital to fighting polio, that’s why we’re extending our funding match…I believe that together, we can make eradication a reality.”
RI Past President John Germ who leads Rotary’s polio fundraising efforts notes: “Because of the efforts of Rotary and its partners, almost 19 million people are walking today who would have otherwise been paralysed, by partnering with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we’re ensuring that children in polio-affected countries get the lifesaving vaccines they need to be protected from polio for life. As the first organisation to envision a polio-free world, Rotary is more committed than ever to delivering on our promise that one day, no child will ever again be paralysed by polio.”
Polio is a paralysing and potentially deadly disease, most commonly contracted by children under the age of five. The virus spreads from person to person, usually through contaminated water, and can attack the nervous system. Sadly, once contracted, there is no cure, therefore the prevention of this disease is vital.
Rotary has contributed more than $2 billion to fight polio, including matching funds from the Gates Foundation, and countless volunteer hours since launching its polio eradication program, PolioPlus, in 1985. In 1988, Rotary formed the Global Polio Eradication Initiative with the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Gates Foundation and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance later joined. When the initiative launched, there were 350,000 cases of polio every year in 125 countries.
Today the incidence of polio has plummeted by more than 99.9 percent and there were only 173 cases last year in the 2 countries remaining with endemic polio – Afghanistan (29) and Pakistan (144) - last summer, Nigeria passed the three-year barrier without a reported case, and is close to becoming declared polio-free.