The Rotary Foundation of Rotary International

Rotary is a volunteer organization of 1.2 million business, professional and community leaders united worldwide to provide humanitarian service. The mission is to enable Rotary's members to advance world understanding, goodwill and peace through the improvement of health, the support of education and the alleviation of poverty. Rotarians lead service programs in their communities and abroad that address today's most pressing challenges while encouraging high ethical standards in their vocations.
Jun 15, 2012

Polio eradication shifts into emergency mode

A child in Chad is immunized against polio
A child in Chad is immunized against polio

Despite the dramatic drop in polio cases in the last year, the threat of continued transmission due to funding and immunization gaps has driven the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) to launch the Global Polio Emergency Action Plan 2012-13.

The plan aims to boost vaccination coverage in the three remaining polio-endemic countries -- Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan -- to levels needed to stop polio transmission. Health ministers meeting at the World Health Assembly in Geneva adopted a resolution on 25 May that declared “the completion of polio eradication to be a programmatic emergency for global public health.”

Polio eradication activities have resulted in several landmark successes since 2010. India, long regarded as the nation facing the greatest challenges to eradication, was removed from the list of polio-endemic countries by the World Health Organization (WHO) in February. Outbreaks in previously polio-free countries were nearly all stopped.

During that same time span, however, polio outbreaks in China and West Africa due to importation from Pakistan and Nigeria, respectively, have highlighted the continued threat of resurgence. Failure to eradicate the disease could lead within a decade to paralysis of as many as 200,000 children per year worldwide.

“Polio eradication is at a tipping point between success and failure,” says Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of WHO. “We are in emergency mode to tip it towards success -- working faster and better, focusing on the areas where children are most vulnerable.”

Eradicating polio would generate net benefits of US$40-50 billion globally by 2035, with the bulk of savings in the poorest countries, based on investments made since the GPEI was formed, savings from reduced treatment costs, and gains in productivity.

“We know polio can be eradicated, and our success in India proves it,” says Rotary International President Kalyan Banerjee. “It is now a question of political and societal will. Do we choose to deliver a polio-free world to future generations, or do we choose to allow 55 cases this year to turn into 200,000 children paralyzed for life, every single year?”

Global emergency action plan

The GPEI’s emergency action plan was developed in coordination with new national emergency plans. The plan builds on India’s success and outlines a range of new strategies and initiatives to better support polio eradication efforts, including:

  • Intensified focus on the worst-performing areas of Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan to increase vaccination coverage by the end of 2012 to levels needed to stop transmission
  • New approaches tailored to each country to tackle persistent challenges and improve polio vaccination campaign performance
  • Heightened accountability, coordination, and oversight to ensure success at every level of government and within every partner agency and organization
  • A surge of technical assistance and social mobilization capacity

Full funding of new plan critical

Already, funding shortages have forced the GPEI to cancel or scale back critical immunization activities in 24 high-risk countries, leaving more children vulnerable to the disease and polio-free countries exposed to the risk of reintroduced transmission.

“All our efforts are at risk until all children are fully immunized against polio -- and that means fully funding the global eradication effort and reaching the children we have not yet reached,” says UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “We have come so far in the battle against this crippling disease. We can now make history -- or later be condemned by history for failing.”

Full implementation of the emergency action plan is hindered by a funding gap of nearly $1 billion through 2013.

“We are all responsible for creating a polio-free world while we still can,” says Chris Elias, president of global development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Achieving this goal is a critical step in protecting all children from vaccine-preventable diseases.”

Working in emergency mode

Since the start of 2012, the GPEI has moved its operations into emergency mode. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has activated its Emergency Operations Center, UNICEF has officially activated an Interdivisional Emergency Coordinating Committee operating directly under the deputy executive director, and WHO has moved its polio operations to its Strategic Health Operations Centre.

Such measures are reserved for responding to global health emergencies, such as the H1N1 pandemic and the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami -- and will generate a massive surge in technical capacity, real-time tracking of program performance, and immediate implementation of corrective action plans as necessary. In March, The Rotary Foundation Trustees reaffirmed that polio eradication is the Foundation’s urgent priority. In addition, Rotary senior leaders have launched a series of one-on-one meetings with the heads of state of the polio-endemic countries.

“We need everyone’s commitment and hard work to eradicate polio and cross the finish line,” says Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of CDC. “It won’t be easy, but together we can eradicate polio forever and for everyone.”

 The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) is spearheaded by national governments, the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UNICEF, and supported by key partners including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Since 1988 (the year the GPEI was launched), the incidence of polio has been reduced by more than 99%. In 1988, more than 350,000 children were paralyzed each year in more than 125 endemic countries. In 2012, 55 cases have been reported (as of 15 May 2012), and only three countries remain endemic: Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Read a statement of support by Dr. Robert Scott, chair of Rotary’s International PolioPlus Committee, for the World Health Assembly’s consideration of a resolution that would declare polio eradication a global emergency for public health.


Mar 30, 2012

Rotary clubs light up the world to stop polio

Thalassini Pyli (Sea Gate) in Rhodes
Thalassini Pyli (Sea Gate) in Rhodes

EVANSTON, Ill. U.S.A. (Feb. 17, 2012) – In what has become a February tradition, community-based Rotary clubs once again illuminated landmarks and iconic structures around the world with the humanitarian group’s dramatic pledge to End Polio Now.

 This year’s round of light displays took on added significance due to the progress Rotary and its partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative have made in India. In January, India -- until recently an epicenter of the crippling childhood disease -- reached a historic milestone by marking a full year without recording a single new case.

 Worldwide, fewer than 650 polio cases have been confirmed for 2011, less than half the 1,352 infections reported in 2010. Overall, the annual number of polio cases has plummeted by more than 99 percent since the initiative was launched in 1988, when polio infected about 350,000 children a year. More than two billion children have been immunized in 122 countries, preventing five million cases of paralysis and 250,000 deaths.

 India’s success sends a message of hope across the border to Pakistan, one of the last remaining polio-endemic countries (the others are Nigeria and Afghanistan). Fittingly, Pakistan Rotary clubs hosted two End Polio Now displays, one at historic Frere Hall in Karachi on Feb. 17-18 and the other at the distinctly modern WAPDA House in Lahore on Feb. 23-24.

 Other illumination sites this year included the 934-year-old Tower of London (Feb. 23); the City Government Building in Taipei, Taiwan (Feb. 23-25); Roppongi Hills Mori Tower, Tokyo’s fifth tallest building (Feb. 20); Melbourne’s Federation Square, one of southern Australia’s top tourist draws (Feb. 25-27); and two famous landmarks in Brazil – the historic Sitio Arqueológico de São Miguel das Missões in Rio Grande do Sul (Feb. 16), and the Palácio Garibaldi, a neo-classical architectural treasure in Curitiba (Feb. 23).

 “These global illuminations carry Rotary’s pledge to end polio—saying to the world that we will fight this crippling disease to the end,” says Rotary International President Kalyan Banerjee, a native of India. “But we are not there yet. Rotary and our partners will continue to immunize children until our goal of a polio-free world is achieved. And we must remain vigilant against a resurgence of this terrible disease.”

 Illustrating Banerjee’s point, teams of Rotary club members from the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and the United States went to India in February to volunteer with their Indian counterparts in massive immunization rounds that reached millions of children under age 5 with the oral polio vaccine. Many volunteers stayed for a Feb. 25-26 Polio Summit organized by Rotary International and the Indian Government.

 Rotary club members worldwide have contributed more than US$1 billion and countless volunteer hours to the polio eradication effort. In January, Rotary leaders announced Rotary clubs had raised more than $200 million in response to a $355 million challenge grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which in turn contributed an additional $50 million in recognition of Rotary’s commitment. All of the resulting $605 million will be spent in support of immunization activities in polio-affected countries.

Jan 12, 2012

Rotary celebrates India's first polio-free year

Last child who contracted polio in India
Last child who contracted polio in India

Rotary members worldwide are cautiously celebrating a major milestone in the global effort to eradicate the crippling disease polio: India, until recently an epicenter of the wild poliovirus, has gone a full calendar year without recording a new case.

Leaders of the humanitarian service organization see the Jan. 13 milestone as a testament to the determination of its international membership of 1.2 million – and especially the 116,000-plus Rotarians of India – to eradicate the infectious disease through the mass immunization of children, a goal Rotary took on 27 years ago.

“With the support of their Rotary brothers and sisters around the world, Indian Rotarians have worked diligently month after month, year after year, to help organize and carry out the National Immunization Days that reach millions of children with the oral polio vaccine,” said Rotary International President Kalyan Banerjee, of Vapi, India. “As an Indian, I am immensely proud of what Rotary has accomplished. However, we know this is not the end of our work. Rotary and our partners must continue to immunize children in India and in other countries until the goal of a polio-free world is finally achieved.”

Deepak Kapur, of New Delhi, who chairs Rotary’s polio eradication program in India, also credits the Indian Health Ministry for its commitment to the effort. To date, the Indian government has spent more than $1.2 billion on domestic polio eradication activities. “Government support is crucial if we are to defeat polio, and we are fortunate that our government is our biggest advocate in this effort,” Kapur said.

“Marching ahead, the goal now is to sustain this momentum,” he added, describing as potentially “decisive” the upcoming immunization rounds in January, February, and March, which aim to vaccinate 174 million children against polio.

If all ongoing testing for polio cases through Jan. 13 continues to yield negative results, India will be declared by the World Health Organization to have interrupted transmission of indigenous wild poliovirus, laying the groundwork for its removal from the polio-endemic countries list which it now shares with Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria. However, other countries remain at risk for cases imported from the endemic countries, which is why immunizations in India and other endemic and at-risk countries must continue. Neighboring Pakistan, which has reported 181 cases so far for 2011, is a major threat to India’s continued polio-free status. In 2011, a polio outbreak in China, polio-free for a decade, was traced genetically to Pakistan.

Rotary launched its polio eradication program in 1985 and in 1988 became a spearheading partner in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, with the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since then, the incidence of polio has plummeted by more than 99 percent, from more than 350,000 cases a year to only 604 reported so far for 2011. The 12-month milestone in India – where the last reported case was a two-year-old girl in West Bengal on Jan. 13, 2011 -- continues the progress of 2010, when the country recorded only 42 polio cases out of 1,352 worldwide.

In addition to raising awareness and advocating within the public and private sectors on behalf of the cause, Rotary members to date have contributed more than $1 billion in support of polio eradication. In all, about $136.67 million in Rotary money has funded polio eradication work in India via grants to WHO and UNICEF.  Indian Rotary members have raised more than $11.6 million to fight polio, and Rotary clubs worldwide currently are closing in on a $200 million fundraising milestone in response to a $355 million challenge grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which also identifies polio eradication as a top priority.

Rotary is a global humanitarian organization with more than 1.2 million members in 34,000 Rotary clubs in over 200 countries and geographical areas. Rotary members are men and women who are business, professional and community leaders with a shared commitment to make the world a better place through humanitarian service. Rotary’s top priority is the global eradication of polio. 


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