Nigeria and the whole continent of Africa is on the cusp of being polio free, Dr. Hamid Jafari told audience members at the Rotary Convention on 8 June in São Paulo, Brazil.
Between 2013 and 2014, the reported cases of polio dropped from 53 to just six in Nigeria. Even more encouraging, said Jafari, is that the last case of polio in Nigeria was reported in July of last year and the last case in all of Africa was reported in Somalia in August.
“With a year of no polio cases in Nigeria tantalizingly close, and no cases in Somalia since August, the tireless work of so many people across the continent is paying off,” said Jafari, director of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative for the World Health Organization. “But it is incredibly important that Nigeria remains vigilant. As long as polio exists anywhere, it will continue to be a threat everywhere.”
Transmission of the wild poliovirus has also never been stopped in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In 2014, 85 percent of polio cases worldwide were in Pakistan, the country’s highest case count in over a decade. But progress has been made over the last few months to stem the spread of the virus. The focus for the government and all of the polio partners has shifted to missed children. Vaccinators have gained access to areas that have been out of reach for years, said Jafari.
Since January, cases in Pakistan are lower than this time last year thanks to advocacy work from Rotary members, said Jafari. “This is a reminder that we cannot let politics and conflict stand in our way, because at the end of the chain stands a mother or father that just wants to protect their child. But the coming months are the real test. We are entering the high season for polio transmission.”
Jafari encouraged attendees to stay committed. “I need you to continue to advocate and engage with your political leaders with that strong, influential Rotary voice of yours, so that all our stakeholders continue to commit to funding the final stages,” he said. “I need you to keep on educating and engaging your communities and the global community on this great endeavor.”
Foundation giving nears record high
Rotary Foundation Trustee Chair John Kenny updated attendees on the progress of the Foundation. One of his goals as chair was to increase giving. The Annual Fund reached almost $117 million in 2013-14. This year, if contributions continue at the normal June rate, the fund will top that figure, making it the highest ever, he said.
The Foundation’s Endowment Fund has reached a milestone of $1 billion, where spendable earnings will provide nearly $13 million of direct financial support next year, more than double the amount five years ago.
“Let us remember that when we give to our Foundation, we are not sending cash to Evanston,” Kenny said. “We are helping a blind man to see, a polio victim to walk, a child to grow to adulthood healthily, a student to become educated, and a family to have enough food to eat.”
More than 400 district grants and over 600 global grants have been awarded in 2014-15, said Kenny. “The Trustees are conscious of obtaining the views of Rotarians and are seeking their observations on the new program so that they can be considered when a review is made in the 2015-16 Rotary year.”
Kenny praised the expansion of the Rotary Peace Centers program. There have been 312 endorsed applications this year from 85 countries, the highest number since the program began in 2002. Of the 100 fellows selected, more than half are from low-income countries.
“We should be encouraged to see that this imaginative program is expanding, for it is surely most pertinent in these troubled times,” he said.
“The future health of the Foundation is in all our hands,” he concluded. “The real work of Rotary is carried out by individual Rotarians in their clubs, for the club is the heart of Rotary.”