Fifty six years ago today, on February 23, 1954, a group of elementary school students in Pittsburgh became the first to receive Dr. Jonas Salk’s breakthrough polio vaccine, marking the turning point in a battle against one of the most frightening public health issues the world has ever faced.
Despite the existence of the vaccine, as recently as 1985—when Rotary International launched the Global Polio Eradication Initiative—nearly 350,000 children were infected with the crippling disease each year. Since then, more than two billion children have been vaccinated, and the annual number of polio cases has been reduced by more than 99 percent. To mark this anniversary and the initiative’s extraordinary success, Rotary, which also celebrates its 107th anniversary today, created a new infographic showcasing the progress and current state of polio eradication: http://twitpic.com/8npwrg/full
To learn more about the Global Polio Eradication initiative, please visit http://www.endpolio.org. Please let me know if you have any questions or would like more information.
ROTARY AND POLIO
“If we all have the fortitude to see this effort through to the end, then we will eradicate polio.”— Bill Gates, cochair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Since 1988, Rotary International and its partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) — the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — have worked to wipe polio from the face of the earth. A volunteer service organization of 1.2 million men and women, Rotary began immunizing children against polio in 1985 and became a spearheading partner in the GPEI three years later.
Rotary’s main responsibilities are fundraising, advocacy, and volunteer recruitment. To date, Rotary has contributed more than US$900 million to the polio eradication effort.
With over 33,000 clubs in more than 200 countries and geographical areas, Rotary is able to reach out to national governments worldwide to generate crucial financial and technical support for polio eradication. Since 1995, the advocacy efforts of Rotary and its partners have helped raise more than $8 billion from donor governments.
Rotary clubs also provide “sweat equity” on the ground in polio-affected communities, which helps ensure that leaders at all levels remain focused on the eradication goal. Rotary club members have volunteered their time and personal resources to reach more than two billion children in 122 countries with the oral polio vaccine.
Thanks to Rotary and its partners, the world has seen polio cases plummet by more than 99 percent, preventing five million instances of child paralysis and 250,000 deaths. When Rotary began its eradication work, polio infected more than 350,000 children annually. In 2009, fewer than 1,700 cases were reported worldwide.
But the polio cases represented by that final 1 percent are the most difficult and expensive to prevent. Challenges include geographic isolation, worker fatigue, armed conflict, and cultural barriers.
That’s why it’s so important to generate the funding needed to End Polio Now. To fail is to invite a polio resurgence that would condemn millions of children to lifelong paralysis in the years ahead.
The bottom line is this: As long as polio threatens even one child anywhere in the world, all children — wherever they live — remain at risk.