Rotary Club members around the world will mark World Polio Day today as the club's 1.2 million members worldwide continue their fight to eradicate polio from the world.
Rotary, a humanitarian service organization with nearly 34,000 clubs in more than 200 countries and geographical areas, made polio eradication its top priority in 1985. Rotary has since contributed $1.2 billion, and its members have logged countless volunteer hours to help immunize more than two billion children in 122 countries.
Rotary and Northwestern University's Center for Global Health will host a live-streamed global status update from 6:30-8 p.m. on the fight to end polio, featuring invited guests including Global Polio Eradication Initiative partners including Rotary International, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, government of the world, celebrity ambassadors, polio survivors and Rotary members.
The world is on the verge of eliminating one of the most dread diseases of the 20th century -poliomyelitis. During the first half of the 20th century, polio crippled more than a half million people every year. Even today, children in some developing countries continue to fall victim to the disease.
The fight against this disease began in 1985, when 350,000 children in 125 countries were affected by the disease and Dr. Albert Sabin, developer of the polio vaccine, challenged Rotary to raise money to vaccinate the children of underdeveloped countries. Rotarians put on their gloves and in the years 1986-88, they raised more than $247 million.
It began to work. In 1994, America was declared polio free; then in 2000, the western Pacific countries were declared free and, in 2002, Europe was free of active polio.
Because the world is so mobile, the disease can spread very easily and so cases continued in Africa and Asia. Between 2003 and 2005, Rotary raised another $200 million and from 2007 to 2012 Rotary raised another $228 million which was matched by the Gates Foundation in the amount of $405 million. The number of active cases in 2012 of polio fell to 285 children with 157 cases in the endemic countries of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.
This year, the Gates Foundation has issued another challenge - they will double all contributions made by others up to $35 million per year for the next five years, which Rotarians hope to match. Members of the Rotary Club of Jamestown have contributed more than $100,000 since the first funding request in 1985.
Vaccine costs about 60 cents per child, but expenses also include clinics and supplies. In addition to raising money for polio eradication, Rotary members offer their time and expertise in the field to fight polio by providing support at clinics, transporting vaccine and contributing medical supplies. Many Rotarians travel to underdeveloped countries at their own expense to assist in actual National Immunization Days, when hundreds and hundreds of children are given the vaccine.
The world is at a "tipping point" for polio eradication. Polio cases have been reduced by 99 percent. Every dollar donated up to $35 million per year between now and 2018 will be matched 2-to-1 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
If the world can eliminate world from the earth, dozens of other diseases could follow. For more information, visit endpolionow.org. To watch the live global update, visit new.livestream.com/rotaryinternational/worldpolioday.