Polio Eradication: Rotary's Promise/ What We've Done & Have to Do

As the Rotary Centennial approaches, Rotarians around the world are encouraged to focus on three key goals for 2005: eradicating polio, increasing membership to 1.5 million members, and supporting The Rotary Foundation of RI's goal of US$100 per member in donations to the Annual Programs Fund. Once achieved, Rotary will be more capable of spreading goodwill far into its next century of service.

Eradicating Polio The final phase of Rotary's more than 18-year effort to eradicate polio is proving the most difficult and renewed efforts are being made to bridge a US$275 million funding gap. Through Rotary's efforts and those of partner agencies, including the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children's Fund, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and governments around the world, the world has seen a 99 percent reduction in the number of polio cases worldwide since 1985. Fewer than 10 countries still harbor the poliovirus. Rotary's polio eradication fundraising campaign asks that each club set its own goal to support the campaign.

Increasing Membership to 1.5 Million Members In order for Rotary to maintain its status as the premiere service club organization, it is vital that Rotary's membership continue to grow. With just more than 1.2 million members currently, this goal provides an ambitious challenge to clubs around the world to focus their efforts on inviting new community leaders to join the ranks of Rotary service.

Reaching $100 Per Capita in Annual Giving To support Rotary's mission, The Rotary Foundation funds world understanding and peace initiatives through local, national, and international humanitarian, education, and cultural programs. In order to continue and expand the good works of the Foundation into the next century, the organization has committed to try to reach an average of $100 by the centennial year. Learn more about The Rotary Foundation.

Brisbane, Australia, June 2003: "Fulfilling Our Promise: Eradicate Polio," the 15-month polio eradication fundraising campaign (PEFC) that had Rotarians racing ducks, building snowmen, running marathons, and coordinating countless other fundraising efforts throughout the 2002-03 Rotary year, celebrated a dramatic moment on 3 June at the 94th annual RI Convention in Brisbane, Australia. RI President Bhichai Rattakul and Trustee Chairman Glen Kinross read a roll call of fundraising achievements by national committees during a morning plenary session that culminated in an announcement that Rotarians worldwide have raised US$88,557,000 for the PEFC. The amount, which surpasses the fundraising goal of $80 million set in 2002, includes cash contributions, District Designated Funds, and pledges.

"Thanks to the remarkable commitment and generosity of Rotary members worldwide, we are closer than ever to wiping out this crippling and deadly disease," said Rattakul. The announcement, which brought thunderous applause from the crowd at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, followed an address by Dr. Shigeru Omi, director of the Western Pacific region of the World Health Organization (WHO). Omi, who has worked closely with Rotarians in his 13 years with the WHO, praised Rotarians for their tenacity and pledged ongoing support from his organization, one of Rotary's longtime partners in the fight against polio. "I can assure you that Rotary's unwavering commitment is matched by us, your closest partners, and by the leaders of the few remaining polio infected countries," he said. "I have come here directly from the World Health Assembly in Geneva, where I listened to the health leaders of India, Nigeria, and Pakistan, who reaffirmed their commitment to finish polio once and for all."

Omi also recognized Rotary's commitment to polio eradication with an award, presented on behalf of the WHO and Rotary's other partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UNICEF. Before joining Rattakul to announce fundraising achievements by Rotarians worldwide, Kinross reflected on the history and progress of the polio eradication campaign, recognized PEFC director and chairman of the Polio Eradication Advocacy Task Force Robert Scott for his dedication, and encouraged Rotarians to press on in the fight against polio.

"There has been a 99 percent reduction in the number of polio cases worldwide, from 350,000 in 1988 to fewer than 2000 in 2002," said Kinross. "99 percent is not enough. Unless we finish that last one percent, the entire campaign is in jeopardy. Polio will not be eradicated ever and all our efforts will have been in vain." Rotary International and its partners will use money raised by the PEFC to purchase oral polio vaccine and to help cover operational expenses and poliovirus surveillance activities. Rotary's commitment of nearly $600 million to the fight against polio since 1985 represents the largest private-sector support of a global health initiative ever. "We are proud of our achievement and rightfully so," said Kinross.

History of: The Polio Eradication Program began in 1979 as the first project of the 3-H program: Health, Hunger, and Humanity. It was initially funded by a grant from Rotary International's 75th anniversary fund. In the early 1980's Rotary began planning for the most ambitious program in its history, to immunize all the children of the world against poli. In 1985, the Polio Plus Program was established with the support of the late Dr. Albert Sabin. Rotary's pledge of $120 million dollars to fund this program was announced at the 40th anniversary of the United Nations and "electrified" the global health community.

Within three years Rotary had raised over $247 million. The program was so successful, that in 1988 at the World Health Assembly, 166 nations committed to the eradication of polio by the year 2000. Because of obstacles such as conflict, inadequate funding, and weak health infrastructures, 20 countries were still not polio free in the year 2000. This figure has now dropped to 10. The United Nations Foundation has carried a financial appeal to the private sector, raising another $100 million. This project is in its final phase and is still incomplete, primarily because of funding.

This is like no other project ever undertaken by Rotary. Its financial commitment is now well over $500 million. Rotarians, over 10 million volunteers, have delivered vaccine by every mode of transportation imaginable. Every Rotary Club is being asked to take a fair share of the final funding of this project. Funding can be raised in a number of different ways, member pledges, corporate sponsorships, or fund raisers. Individual contributions to fund raisers for a project such as this can be applied to Rotary Foundation's Paul Harris Fellow recognition. Additional information will be presented on this international project as it becomes available.

Why Polio? During the 1970s, Rotary International began a search for a universal humanitarian cause that would unite and drive its membership into the 21st century. A program where members could actively participate not just by fund-raising, but by volunteering in their communities and across the world the cornerstone of Rotary's charter. The answer came in 1979 when Rotary launched a five-year polio immunization program in the Philippines along with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Philippine Ministry of Health. The initiative was declared a success, signifying the end of Rotary's search.

In 1985, Rotary created PolioPlus a program to immunize all the world's children against polio by 2005 Rotary's centennial. PolioPlus is one of the most ambitious humanitarian undertakings made by a private entity ever. It will serve as a paradigm for private/public collaborations in the fight against disease well into the next century.

Europe achieves historic milestone as region is declared polio-free:
The European region of the World Health Organization (WHO) was declared polio-free on 21 June by the Regional Commission for the Certification of Poliomyelitis Eradication (RCC) in Copenhagen, Denmark. For some 870 million people living in the region's 51 member states, this decision is the most important public health milestone of the new millennium.
The declaration makes Europe the third WHO region to be certified polio-free after the Americas in 1994 and the Western Pacific in 2000.

"This is truly an historic achievement," said Rotary Foundation Trustee Chairman Luis Vicente Giay from RI's annual Convention in Barcelona, Spain, where Rotarians celebrated news of the certification. "I commend our global partners and every member of Rotary for helping to eliminate this age old scourge from Europe for all time."

"This is a tremendous achievement in the global effort to eradicate polio," declared Dr. Marc Danzon, WHO regional director for Europe. "To get where we are today required the full commitment and cooperation of each of our 51 member states, the hard work of public health workers in the field, and the firm support of international partners in coordination with WHO."

Europe's last case of indigenous wild poliomyelitis occurred in eastern Turkey in 1998, when a two-year-old unvaccinated boy was paralyzed by the virus. Poliovirus imported from polio-endemic countries remains a threat. In 2001 alone, there were three polio cases among Roma children in Bulgaria and one non-paralytic case in Georgia — all caused by poliovirus originating on the Indian subcontinent.

Of the recent importations, Sir Joseph Smith, chairman of the RCC noted, "We are satisfied that all measures were taken to ensure that wild poliovirus imported into the region did not lead to ongoing circulation. All evidence confirms that."

The path to a polio-free European region began in 1988, following the call of the World Health Assembly to eradicate the disease worldwide. Tens of millions of children in 18 polio-endemic countries and areas in the European and Eastern Mediterranean regions of WHO have since been protected from the poliovirus through an unprecedented series of coordinated national immunization campaigns, often carried door-to-door. Supplementary vaccination campaigns have continued in the highest-risk countries through to 2002.

The independent panel of international public health experts that comprises the RCC has been engaged in the formal polio-free certification process in Europe since 1996. Before certification could be declared, the RCC had to scrutinize surveillance data and the evidence of national certification committees. It also received firm commitments from all ministries of health on maintaining immunization and surveillance to safeguard against the risk of infection through imported poliovirus.

In addition to maintaining immunization, surveillance, and the ability to respond to imported cases, European countries are now cataloguing all laboratory stocks of poliovirus as part of a global plan to ensure effective containment in a polio-free world.

Achieving global eradication — the best way of minimizing the risk to Europe's children — will require the filling of a funding gap of US $275 million for work up to 2005. To help the global effort to close the funding gap, Rotary will this coming July start its second major fundraising campaign to raise US$80 million by 2003.

"Rotary's PolioPlus program is a shining example of the achievements made possible by cooperation between the United Nations and the non-governmental organizations." Kofi Annan, Secretary General, United Nations.


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