EVANSTON, Ill., USA) (Oct. 24, 2010) – In recognition of World Polio Day, Rotary clubs are participating in a global push to raise the funds and awareness needed to vanquish this crippling disease, now on the verge of eradication.
This year, significant progress has been made against polio in the remaining four polio-endemic countries, particularly in Nigeria and India. Nigeria, until recently the global epicenter of polio, has reported only eight cases in 2010, a dramatic reduction from the 2009 total. India has also seen major progress, with an 80-percent reduction in polio cases since last year.
Since 1985, eradicating polio worldwide has been Rotary’s top philanthropic goal. Rotary has contributed more than US$900 million and countless volunteer hours to protect more than two billion children in 122 countries. In addition to India and Nigeria, the disease remains endemic — meaning spread of the wild poliovirus has never been interrupted — to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Until endemic polio transmission is stopped, other countries remain at risk for imported cases. For example, Tajikistan is suffering a serious polio outbreak traced back to India.
In response to a $355 million challenge grant awarded to Rotary by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Rotary clubs worldwide are aiming to raise a total of $200 million by 2012. The organization has already raised more than $141 million toward that goal. The funding will provide critical support to polio eradication activities. As outlined in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative’s 2010 strategic plan, this includes a new, more effective bivalent polio vaccine and a more targeted approach in each country.
“We have come a long way,” said Carl-Wilhelm Stenhammar, trustee chair of The Rotary Foundation of Rotary International. “We have reduced the number of polio cases by over 99 percent. But we can’t let up now. The remaining one percent is proving to be the most challenging, since the poliovirus persists in the most intractable parts of the world. We have the tools to eradicate this devastating disease. It’s up to us to make sure we have the resources needed to reach every child.”
To raise awareness and funds for the global push to end polio, Rotary clubs worldwide are conducting activities surrounding World Polio Day:
- Turkey: Rotarians will participate in the 32nd Eurasia Marathon, spanning the Bosporus Bridge that connects Europe to Asia, to raise funds for polio eradication.
- Hong Kong: Rotary members will hold their annual 10K race to raise funds for polio eradication. It is a new charity race for elite and recreational runners. There is also a 3Km race for children. Last year, nearly 500 runners participated, raising more than HK$100,000.
- Netherlands: Rotary clubs throughout the Netherlands are teaming up to launch a national Rotary fundraising and awareness campaign for polio eradication. They hope to raise $2.5 million for the $200 million challenge.
- San Francisco, Calif., USA: Hundreds of Rotary members will participate in a walk on the Embarcadero to show their support for Rotary’s mission to eradicate polio. Later that evening, Rotary members will illuminate the San Francisco Ferry Building with the message — End Polio Now.
- UK: Rotary members in Great Britain and Ireland participated in The Big Bulb Plant on 2 October, planting thousands of purple crocus plants throughout the city. The flowerbeds, each carrying Rotary’s “End Polio Now,” message are expected to bloom in late February, coinciding with Rotary’s “End Polio Now” lightings and events.
- Bermuda: Rotary clubs are holding a “Purple Pinky Day,” painting the pinky fingernails of those who donate, similar to the mark received by children who have been given the oral polio vaccine. The Governor will sign a proclamation in honor of Rotary’s work to end polio.
A highly infectious disease, polio causes paralysis and is sometimes fatal. As there is no cure, the best protection is prevention. For as little as 60 cents worth of vaccine, a child can be protected against this crippling disease for life. With an international investment of $8 billion, and the successful engagement of over 200 countries and 20 million volunteers, polio could be the first disease of the 21st century to be eradicated.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is spearheaded by the World Health Organization, Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). It includes the support of governments and private sector donors.
Rotary is an organization of business and professional leaders united worldwide to provide humanitarian service and help to build goodwill and peace in the world. It is comprised of 1.2 million members working in more than 33,000 clubs in 200 countries and geographic regions.