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.
Feb 9, 2016

Reflecting on successes & challenges to end polio

Dentler talks about the importance of vaccines.
Dentler talks about the importance of vaccines.

In 2015, the world saw historic progress against the paralyzing disease, with just two countries – Afghanistan and Pakistan – reporting a single strain of the wild virus. Pakistan, which continues to report the majority of the world’s polio cases, reduced its caseload by 82 percent in 2015 over the previous year. If the current momentum is strengthened, this year may mark the last case of wild poliovirus.

To sustain this progress, and protect all children from polio, experts say $1.5 billion is urgently needed. Without full funding and political commitment, the disease could return to previously polio-free countries, putting children everywhere at risk.

Last month, Rotary announced $35 million in grants to support the global effort to end polio.

India, once considered the hardest place on earth to stop the disease, celebrated going five years without a polio case on January 13. Minda Dentler, Ironman athlete, polio survivor and mother, reflects on her trip to the country in November:

I am one of India’s polio survivors. For me, and millions of children around the world, today is a special one for global health. It marks five years since the last case of polio in India, a disease which once struck 150,000 children in the country in 1985, the year when Rotary launched its PolioPlus program.

With its size, population density, unsanitary, impoverished areas, and the very high incidence of endemic diseases, many thought that India would never rid itself of the scourge of polio. But thanks to the efforts of thousands of health workers and volunteers as part of Rotary’s efforts in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, it hasn’t seen a case since January 2011.

To put that in perspective, India used to have, in one hour, as many cases as the U.S. or Canada would have in a year. That was 30 years ago-now it’s completely gone.

As I reflect on this milestone from my home in New York, I know that this is an amazing achievement, but there’s no substitute for seeing the results of this progress in person.

I had this privilege when I returned to India, where I was born in Bombay, for the first time as an adult, on a trip with Rotary to participate in national immunization days last November. 

On this trip I met India’s last polio victim, Rukhsar Khatoon, in a tiny village in West Bengal, a state that was once a reservoir for the virus.

She was just 18 months old when she contracted the disease, but thanks to exhaustive therapy, Rukhsar is able to use her legs, and she shyly walked over to greet me, in a beautiful red and gold dress—a specialty of her village, which is renowned for its intricate embroidery.

At that moment I realized that she represents the beginning of a future of a polio-free world – a world that India is now a part of. 

As I left Rukhsar’s village, I felt that there is still so much more to be done. 2015 had fewer polio cases in fewer places than ever before. It is more important than ever that we continue this momentum in 2016. But we must also expand our efforts to improve lives around the world at all stages of life. Once children are protected from the threats of diseases like polio, they should be free to gain an education, and empowered to escape poverty. Eradicating polio is the first clear step on that long path, and on this day, I urge you all to help Rotary ensure that no child will ever suffer from this burden ever again. 

Minda meeting with local Rotary members
Minda meeting with local Rotary members
Dentler administers two drops of vaccine
Dentler administers two drops of vaccine

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Nov 11, 2015

We're getting closer to a polio-free world

Archie Panjabi & Angelique Kidjo
Archie Panjabi & Angelique Kidjo

The World Health Organization declared Nigeria polio-free on September 25 and removed it from the list of polio-endemic countries. This means there are no longer any polio-endemic countries in Africa, and only two endemic countries remain in the world.

This announcement comes on the heels of another important landmark. One of the three strains of wild poliovirus (Type 2) was declared eradicated on 21 September, and we will soon pass three years without a case of Type 3. This means that only one type of the wild poliovirus continues to circulate.

Polio is on track to become the second human disease ever to be eliminated from the world (smallpox is the first). To date, Rotary has helped 194 countries stop the transmission of polio through the mass immunization of children. Rotary's new funding commitment, announced in advance of the Oct. 24 observance of World Polio Day 2015, targets countries where children remain at risk of contracting this incurable, but vaccine-preventable, disease.

To maintain the success against polio in Nigeria and across the continent of Africa, the global effort to end polio received an additional $40.4 million boost from Rotary to support immunization activities and surveillance spearheaded by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

Rotary provides grant funding to polio eradication initiative partners UNICEF and the World Health Organization, which work with the governments and Rotary members in polio-affected and high-risk countries to plan and carry out immunization activities.

To date, Rotary has contributed more than $1.5 billion to fight polio. Currently, there have been only 51 cases of polio reported in the world in 2015, down from about 350,000 a year when the initiative launched in 1988.

Rotary should be proud of the important role we have played in this achievement, including granting more than $207 million to eradicate polio in Nigeria, and contributing countless volunteer hours.

The success we saw in the fight to end polio this year wouldn't be possible without the support of health workers, local governments, Rotary and Global Polio Eradication Initiative partners. But it also wouldn't be possible without word of mouth and social media. This year, celebrities joined in on the #endpolio chorus with enthusiasm and urgency. Celebrity ambassadors including Salman Ahmad, John Cena, Heidi Klum, Alyssa Milano, Aseefa Butto Zardari, Alexandre Pato, Angelique Kidjo, Archie Panjabi, Isabeli Fontana and Ivete Sangalo shared social media messages about the urgent need to end polio.

As we move forward, some strategic shifts are needed to address ongoing challenges, such as missed children, surveillance quality and low immunization rates in conflict areas. With a fully funded program and global commitment to ending this disease, we have the opportunity to interrupt transmission of the wild poliovirus in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2016, opening the door for the certification of global eradication in 2019. An increase in resources of $1.5 billion will help Rotary and its partners to focus on the last and most vulnerable children in Pakistan and Afghanistan, while continuing to protect hundreds of millions of children already living in polio-free countries.

The commitment and ingenuity of Rotarians has brought us to the threshold of one the greatest achievements in the history of public health. With continued support, we will soon see our dream of a polio-free world realized.

Isabeli Fontana in India
Isabeli Fontana in India

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Aug 13, 2015

A Polio-free Africa within Reach

Rotarians reach out to immunize every child
Rotarians reach out to immunize every child

July 24th marked 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. Rotarians have donated more than $1.4 billion to end polio globally along with countless volunteer and advocacy hours.

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, Rotarians have 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.”

One of the unique ways Rotarians are getting involved in Nigeria is through the use of health camps, where polio vaccines are given along with a range of other health services and basic health supplies such as first aid kits, soaps and bed nets. Rotarians volunteer their time and also help pay for the medical supplies, which is helping to provide much needed access in at risk communities.  This is helping to build trust and secure a strong foundation for future public health initiatives in the country.

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. Rotarians in Pakistan have adopted similar approaches to the ones utilized in Nigeria, and are hopeful that similarly success results will soon bring Pakistan and the world ever closer to the polio free goal.

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