Rotarians prepare for mass immunization campaigns in polio-endemic countries
Volunteers play a critical role in world's largest global health endeavor
(Evanston, Ill., USA: 30 September 2009) In the coming months, hundreds of Rotary club members from the United States, the United Kingdom, Norway, Denmark and Korea will join thousands of their fellow Rotary members and millions of other volunteers and health workers to immunize children against polio in India, as well as Nigeria and several other African nations.
Through Rotary International, the fight against this crippling disease has been largely volunteer-driven. Never before has the influence of the private sector played such a critical role in a global public health effort.
“When Rotary International launched PolioPlus in 1985, more than 125 countries were still polio endemic, and at least a thousand children were paralyzed every day,” said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at Rotary’s 2009 Convention.
“Since then, [Rotary has] led the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, side by side with the World Health Organization, UNICEF and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. More than two billion children have been immunized. More than five million children who otherwise would have been paralyzed are walking. There are now only four countries that are still polio endemic. Rotary's vision of a polio-free world is in sharp focus.”
Overall, great progress has been made in the effort to end polio. In the two decades since Rotary and its global partners launched the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, cases worldwide have decreased by 99 percent. The disease remains endemic in just four countries -- Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan -- although other countries remain at risk for imported cases.
Rotary’s commitment to end polio represents the largest private-sector support of a global health initiative. Since 1985, Rotary has raised more than US$800 million worldwide, and is currently working to raise an additional US$200 million toward a US$355 million challenge grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The resulting US$555 million will help address the critical funding gap for polio immunization activities—currently a US$240 million shortfall for 2009-10—and support polio eradication activities in the remaining polio-endemic and high-risk countries.
Rotary International President John Kenny says the organization is dedicated to its 20+ year battle against polio. “Until the day the earth is declared polio-free, this work must be our first priority, and our main focus,” he said. “It is up to us to finish the job.”
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 US 60 cents worth of vaccine, a child can be protected against this crippling disease for life. After an international investment of US$6.8 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.
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