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EVANSTON, Ill. (24 July 2015) — Today marks one year since the last case of polio in Nigeria, the only remaining polio-endemic country in Africa. This achievement – the longest period Nigeria has gone without a case of the paralyzing disease – could signal the world will soon see a polio-free Africa, a significant global health milestone.
Rotary has been a leader in the fight to eradicate polio since 1985, when it launched the first global initiative to immunize the world's children against polio: its flagship PolioPlus program. The organization has donated more than $1.4 billion to end polio.
Nigeria's last polio case occurred on July 24, 2014, in southern Kano state, and the continent of Africa has not seen a polio case since August 11, 2014. The World Health Organization (WHO) may soon remove Nigeria from the list of polio endemic countries. When Nigeria and every country in Africa go three years without a case of polio, WHO will certify the region as polio-free. Most recently, WHO declared India and its Southeast Asia region polio-free in 2014.
Experts caution that while today marks a noteworthy milestone, the world cannot take its sights off polio. The next two years will be critical to ensuring Nigeria remains on-track and prevent a resurgence of the disease. The support of donors, governments and partners is needed more than ever to ensure high-quality polio campaigns.
Last month, Rotary announced US$19 million in grants for continued polio eradication activities in Africa, including nearly $10 million for Nigeria. Over the past thirty years, the organization has given $688.5 million for polio eradication throughout Africa, and $207.4 million for Nigeria.
"Rotary's 1.2 million members around the world – including the 6,890 in Nigeria – have played an important role in this progress. Rotary has worked with partners to successfully pioneer unique and innovative solutions to the challenges facing polio eradication in Nigeria," said Dr. Tunji Funsho, Rotary's National PolioPlus Committee chair for Nigeria. "However, it is too soon to celebrate. The world needs to keep polio eradication a high priority to ensure the disease does not return within our borders."
Beyond Nigeria, only Pakistan and Afghanistan remain polio-endemic. According to experts, Pakistan will prove the biggest challenge to global eradication efforts, with the country accounting for nearly 90% of the world's cases in 2014. However, there has been recent progress in Pakistan, with the country reporting a nearly 70% reduction in cases in the first half of 2015 compared to the same time in 2014.
Rotary launched its polio immunization program PolioPlus in 1985 and in 1988 became a spearheading partner in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative with the WHO, UNICEF, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since the initiative launched in 1988, the incidence of polio has plummeted by more than 99.9 percent, from about 350,000 cases a year to less than 400 confirmed in 2014.
Rotary's roles within the initiative are fundraising, advocacy, and social mobilization. To date, Rotary has contributed more than $1.4 billion and countless volunteer hours to fight polio. Through 2018, every dollar Rotary commits to polio eradication will be matched two-to-one by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation up to $35 million a year.
Rotary brings together a global network of volunteer leaders dedicated to tackling the world's most pressing humanitarian challenges. Rotary connects 1.2 million members of more than 34,000 Rotary clubs in over 200 countries and geographical areas. Their work improves lives at both the local and international levels, from helping families in need in their own communities to working toward a polio-free world. In 1988, Rotary was joined by the WHO, UNICEF and the CDC to launch the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. Visit rotary.org and endpolio.org for more about Rotary and its efforts to eradicate polio. Video and still images will be available on the Rotary Media Center.