End Polio Now

by The Rotary Foundation of Rotary International
End Polio Now
End Polio Now
End Polio Now
End Polio Now
End Polio Now
End Polio Now
End Polio Now
End Polio Now
End Polio Now
End Polio Now
End Polio Now
End Polio Now
End Polio Now
End Polio Now
End Polio Now
End Polio Now
End Polio Now
End Polio Now
End Polio Now
End Polio Now
Mark & David Anderson ride the trains for polio
Mark & David Anderson ride the trains for polio

Rotary members have been at the center of the worldwide effort to eradicate polio for more than three decades. Rotary launched PolioPlus in 1985 and helped found the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in 1988. At that time, wild poliovirus paralyzed hundreds of children every day, with an estimated 350,000 polio cases across more than 125 countries in one year. Since then, cases have plummeted more than 99.9%, sparing more than 20 million people from paralysis.

But as recent polio detections have revealed, polio remains a threat everywhere as long as it exists anywhere. In the days and weeks leading up to World Polio Day, 24 October, Rotary members around the world are holding events to raise awareness of the need to End Polio Now. Below are a few of those efforts.

Australia: Ride the train to end polio

Mark and Dave Anderson, members of the Rotary Club of Beecroft, will travel the entire train system in Sydney, visiting more than 189 stations on 24 October in an effort to raise funds and awareness for End Polio Now. They have conducted the challenge each of the past four years, raising more than $450,000, matched two to one by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Their goal this year is to raise another $200,000. You can help out by riding the train with the dynamic duo if you are in Australia or by donating to support their challenge.

Japan: Decorated buses

Rotary members in District 2630, Japan, worked with local transportation companies to decorate buses with End Polio Now colors. They used red (a color in the EPN logo); purple (the color used to mark the little finger of children who receive the polio drops during immunization days); and yellow (the color of vests warn by vaccination volunteers).  In addition, End Polio Now appears above the entrance of the buses.

Korea: Walking to end polio

Hwamun Park, a member of the Rotary Club of Incheon Sinsegae, has been carrying an End Polio Now flag along the Camino de Santiago, a network of pilgrimages leading to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwest Spain. As a hiker, completing the pilgrimage has been on her bucket list. A fellow Rotarian offered to donate a dollar for every mile that Park walked. She walked more than 1,000 miles between May and July, talking to many people she met about Rotary’s top priority. “Integrating Rotary’s initiatives with what you want to do in life, that’s how Rotarians live,” Park says.

France: Marathon

Michel Porhel, a member of the Rotary Club of Laval Ambroise Paré, is planning to repeat his 2019 fundraising effort, when he competed in the Marathon des Sables, raising €5,000 (roughly $4,800) for polio eradication. On 21 April, he will set off on the 240-kilometer event (about 150 miles) with an even more ambitious fundraising goal, supported by members of his club and other Rotarians in District 1650.

Austria: Ultra Cyclist raises $1.2 million

Eleven days, six hours, 45 minutes. That’s the time it took Kurt Matzler, a member of the Austrian Rotary Club Innsbruck-Goldenes Dachl, to cycle 3,000 miles across the United States during the Race Across America in June, raising $1.2 million for End Polio Now.

Matzler finished sixth among individual cyclists and crossed 175,000 feet of elevation change, with temperatures up to 122 degrees Fahrenheit in the Mojave Desert. He only allowed himself four hours rest a day. Matzler, who has completed the same race previously with cycling teams, had a particularly rough time of it this go around, having to detour due to wildfires increasing the amount of elevation change, and facing both cold and wet conditions in the Rockies. He also overcame several bike repairs to complete his goal.

To learn more about Rotary's efforts to end polio and how we are celebrating World Polio Day on 24 October, go to https://www.endpolio.org/

Hwamun Park walks for polio eradication
Hwamun Park walks for polio eradication
Michel Porhel runs for polio eradication
Michel Porhel runs for polio eradication

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Ralph Zuke on his Barcalounger Rickshaw
Ralph Zuke on his Barcalounger Rickshaw

On May 3, 2022, Ralph Zuke, member of the St. Louis Civilians Satellite Rotary Club set off on his homemade ‘Barcalounger Rickshaw’ for a 31-day journey to Houston to raise funds for Rotary’s PolioPlus program aimed at eradicating polio. The disabling and life-threatening disease is easily preventable by the polio vaccine. 

A retired high school health teacher and carpenter, Zuke fashioned his 113-pound rickshaw out of a 1950s-style recliner. Zuke arrived in Houston on June 3, to attend Rotary’s 113th annual international convention, taking place June 4 – 8, 2022 at the George R. Brown Convention Center. Along the way, he collected donations for the cause, giving rides, and meeting local elected officials, Rotary clubs and others, sharing the story of Rotary’s quest to eradicate polio. He cycled all day and rested in the homes of Rotary members along the way or motels sponsored by local Rotary clubs. 

Along his 703-mile trek, Zuke offered his Rotarian host families and other people short rides in the rickshaw, sometimes pulling 50 or 60 passengers in a day. “It was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had,” he says. “I met the most incredible people.”

 Ralph completed the same trip in advance of the Rotary convention in Toronto in 2017. On that 22-day trip, he had aimed to raise $22,000 — symbolizing the 22 cases of polio reported in 2017. With pledges from Rotarians and people he met along the route, Zuke raised just under $24,000. The 2-to-1 match from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation brought the total to nearly $72,000. Zuke's fundraising effort is just one of thousands of creative projects that Rotarians undertake every year to help raise funds for polio.

For more than 30 years, Rotary has been the driving force in the effort to end polio worldwide, having launched its polio immunization program, PolioPlus, in 1985. With its partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, including the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Rotary has achieved a 99.9 percent reduction in polio cases, with just six cases of wild polio reported in 2021 compared with 350,000 a year in the late 1980s.

Rotary members have contributed $2.4 billion and countless volunteer hours to protect nearly 3 billion children in 122 countries from this paralyzing disease. Today, just two countries continue to report endemic transmission of wild poliovirus: Afghanistan and Pakistan. With the infrastructure Rotary International helped create to end polio, the international non-profit organization has built a lasting global health legacy that is now used to protect millions of people from other diseases such as COVID-19.

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Khadim Solangi Goth, a community on the outskirts of Karachi, Pakistan, sits in one of the last remaining polio reservoirs on the planet. More than 40,000 people live in improvised dwellings made of earth or other found materials. For some, a cotton sheet is all that protects them from the hot sun and monsoon rains. “The poorest of the poor are living in this area,” says Asher Ali, the project manager for the Pakistan PolioPlus Committee.

In Pakistan, 53,000 children under age 5 die each year from diarrhea caused by contaminated water.

Polio is especially resilient in this community, which has been one of the most resistant to eradication efforts; the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) has designated Khadim Solangi Goth one of its highest-priority areas. And the Pakistan Polio Eradication Initiative classifies Gadap Union Council 4, the administrative district that the community is a part of, as “super high risk.”

What makes polio thrive in this place? The piles of trash and open sewers are one reason; the poliovirus gets transmitted through contaminated water. But another major factor is the area’s low vaccination rate. In a community whose basic needs aren’t met, residents see the polio vaccine as a low priority. “The refusals are not for the sake of religion but because civic amenities are missing,” says Aziz Memon, chair of the Pakistan PolioPlus Committee. “They ask us, ‘What are you doing here? You come again and again and again to give us polio drops. You never tell us how you’re going to help us with electricity, roads, or clean water.’”

Still, the polio eradication program has seen a boost to its credibility in the past couple of years, thanks to the installation of water filtration plants in Karachi and several other areas of the country, including in Khadim Solangi Goth in December 2020 — part of the GPEI’s effort to install a total of 36 such plants in Pakistan. Since 2012, Rotary members have been working to install plants through a variety of channels, including a partnership with Coca-Cola Pakistan, Rotary Foundation global grant projects, PolioPlus Partners grants, and partnerships with Rotary districts or other entities. More construction is in progress or in the planning stages.

“Now that the community has access to clean water, polio workers are giving us feedback that when they are going to homes, the mothers bring their children to be vaccinated. The workers now have easy access to get into the area,” says Ali.

Reaching Khadim Solangi Goth had been a challenge because of security concerns. But the polio workers persevered. Rotary members met with elders, women, and other stakeholders in the community to find out what they needed most and how Rotary could help. “Once we gained their confidence, then we moved forward,” Ali says.

Safe drinking water was a high priority among Khadim Solangi Goth residents, so Coca-Cola Pakistan and Rotary in Pakistan — whose decade-long partnership has brought clean water to tens of thousands of people in the country — installed a water filtration plant in the community. Rotary members also trained residents to operate and maintain the equipment, and worked with the community to provide education in hygiene and handwashing. “We gradually gained the respect of the people and gained success,” Ali says.

The work ties into the GPEI’s new strategic plan, which launched in June 2021. One of the objectives is to speed progress toward polio eradication by integrating that work with efforts to address other community needs — “in other words, not just focusing on polio alone,” explains Michael K. McGovern, chair of the International Polio-Plus Committee.

In a report issued the same month, the Independent Monitoring Board, a group of experts who assess progress toward a polio-free world, highlighted the slow progress toward improving water and sanitation in parts of Pakistan deemed “super high risk.” The board called directly on Rotary to help bridge the gap between the polio program and other programs and funders. “Rotary International is greatly respected as having a ‘can-do’ capability in advancing practical action of this kind,” the report stated.

While the improvement of water and sanitation in these areas helps stop the spread of polio, the new infrastructure helps build goodwill for the polio program. “It all ties together,” McGovern says.

Hence the “plus” in PolioPlus, Rotary’s program that provides communities with benefits beyond vaccination — such as clean water, medical treatments, bed nets, and soap. In northern Nigeria, for example, Rotary and its partners sponsored more than 30 solar-powered boreholes, which helped develop trust among the vulnerable residents. The strategy worked: Nigeria reported its last case of polio in 2016, and the World Health Organization certified the Africa region free of wild polio in 2020.

In Pakistan, Memon says, Rotary members complement the water projects with health camps that assist families with other medical needs. “Health camps also send a very positive signal,” he says. “It shows that our main focus is not polio alone, it’s PolioPlus.”

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Health workers vaccinate children in Pakistan
Health workers vaccinate children in Pakistan

Rotary’s goal of ridding the world of polio is within reach, global health experts said during the 2021 World Polio Day Online Global Update on 24 October. The 30-minute program, “Delivering on our Promise of a Polio-Free World,” provided encouraging information about the progress and remaining challenges in the fight to end polio.

So far in 2021, only two cases of wild polio have been reported — the lowest circulation of the disease ever — with one infection each in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the two countries where polio remains endemic.

During a Q&A Session, Dr. Hamid Jafari, director for the World Health Organization’s Eastern Mediterranean Region, attributed the low case count to several factors. He said these include mass polio vaccination campaigns resuming after the interruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the natural immunity induced by the wild polio outbreaks of previous years, and the restrictions on travel and population movement that also were due to the pandemic.

“This is truly unprecedented that we are seeing this decline simultaneously in the two countries,” Jafari said.

He added that the low case count provides a window of opportunity for health workers, but cautioned that a resurgence of the poliovirus is possible since summer is the high polio transmission season. “So this is the time to really press hard in making use of the opportunity that presents itself now,” he told Q&A host Jeffrey Kluger, editor at large for Time magazine.

Jafari also addressed the challenges of political change and security concerns in Afghanistan and explained that the polio program there is used to adapting operationally during uncertainty. “Currently we do see opportunities coming up as well, so that we may have access to all parts of Afghanistan for implementing mass vaccination campaigns,” he said.

According to the WHO and UNICEF, nationwide house-to-house polio vaccinations will resume in Afghanistan in early November, providing access to children in areas where campaigns had been banned for the last three years.

“You know with the evolving situation in Afghanistan, it is of course very, very important that we partners maintain our neutrality and impartiality of the polio eradication program,” Jafari added. “As always, we will continue to work with all parties.”

Mohammad Ishaq Niazmand, chair of Rotary’s Afghanistan PolioPlus Committee, echoed Jafari’s sentiments in a video address with his counterpart for Pakistan, Aziz Memon.

Niazmand said of Afghanistan, “Rotary and our partners are working with all stakeholders to ensure that polio eradication remains a top priority, even in the midst of change. Work is underway to ensure that children have access to lifesaving polio [vaccines] and other childhood vaccines.”

Memon, a Rotary Foundation trustee and chair of the Pakistan PolioPlus Committee, said Rotary continues to build trust with government, community, and religious leaders. “By bringing broader health services to children and families alongside polio vaccinations, we’re ensuring better health care and greater vaccine acceptance,” he said.

Strategies for the Future

This year, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative announced a new five-year strategy for 2022-26 to end all polioviruses, including tackling the persistent transmission of circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus. Rotary and its GPEI partners identified the remaining obstacles to polio eradication and developed approaches to reaching the goal. The plan aims to achieve and sustain a polio-free world through a focus on implementation and accountability while using innovative methods and tools.

The emphasis will be on decreasing the response time to any outbreak, increasing vaccine demand, increasing access to health care and vaccines, transitioning toward government ownership of vaccination programs, and improving decision-making and accountability.

“Some of the most polio-endemic communities are also the ones that suffer from [a] lack of basic health and civic services,” Jafari said. The goal, he said, is a “better alignment and integration with other basic health and civic services in a way that the polio program is seen as a more integrated approach to vaccination.”

He added that in some communities, children are still missed because of gaps in the way vaccination campaigns are conducted or because of vaccine hesitancy. “This new strategy speaks to engaging the communities with new approaches, new strategies, partnering with communities, [and] building new alliances with these communities,” Jafari said.

The World Polio Day program featured global health experts addressing the new strategy’s tactic of broadening distribution of a new vaccine to address outbreaks of cVDPV2, a circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus. This novel oral polio vaccine type 2 (nOPV2) protects children against polio while being more genetically stable and less likely to regain strength and cause the vaccine-derived polio. It has already been introduced in several African countries, including Benin, Chad, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria, Republic of the Congo, and Sierra Leone.

This novel oral polio vaccine “is a powerful example of the polio program’s innovation to overcome the toughest challenges,” said Simona Zipursky, senior adviser to the polio director of WHO. “Partners, scientists, and leaders from around the world made nOPV2 possible. This is the kind of collaboration that will help end polio for good.”

This year’s program included a powerful video of polio health workers in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as Rotary members sharing their World Polio Day projects and events to raise awareness for polio eradication.

World Polio Day 2021
World Polio Day 2021

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Rotary club members of Boa Vista, Brazil
Rotary club members of Boa Vista, Brazil

In a special interview, PolioNews (PN) talks to Holger Knaack (HK), President of Rotary International, about why it is more important than ever to support PolioPlus, Rotary’s polio eradication program, and what lessons it can offer to the COVID-19 pandemic global response.

PN: President Knaack, thank you for taking the time to speak to us. A little more than a year into the global COVID-19 pandemic, what is your take on the current situation, also with a view of the global effort to eradicate polio?

HK: There are many interesting lessons we learned over the past 12 months. The first is the value of strong health systems, which perhaps in countries like mine – Germany – we have over the past decades taken for granted. But we have seen how important strong health systems are to a functional society, and how fragile that society is if those systems are at risk of collapse. In terms of PolioPlus, of course, the reality is that it is precisely children who live in areas with poor health systems who are most at risk of contracting diseases such as polio. So everything must be done to strengthen health systems systematically, everywhere, to help prevent any disease.

The second lesson is the value of scientific knowledge. COVID-19 is of course a new pathogen affecting the world, and there remain many unanswered questions. How does it really transmit? Who and where are the primary transmitters? How significant and widespread are asymptomatic (meaning undetected) infections and what role do they play in the pandemic? And most importantly, how best to protect our populations, with a minimum impact on everyday life? These are precisely the same questions that were posed about polio in the 1950s. People felt the same fear back then about polio, as we do now about COVID. Polio would indiscriminately hit communities, seemingly without rhyme or reason. Parents would send their children to school in the morning, and they would be stricken by polio later that same day. Lack of knowledge is what is so terrifying about the COVID-19 pandemic. It also means we are to a large degree unable to really target strategies in the most effective way. What polio has shown us is the true value of scientific knowledge. We know how polio transmits, where it is circulating, who is most at risk, and most importantly, we have the tools and the knowledge to protect our populations. This knowledge enables us to target our eradication strategies in the most effective manner, and the result is that the disease has been beaten back over the past few decades to just two endemic countries worldwide. Most recently, Africa was certified as free of all wild polioviruses, a tremendous achievement which could not have been possible without scientific knowledge guiding us. So while we grapple for answers with COVID, for polio eradication, we must now focus entirely on operational implementation. If we optimize implementation, success will follow.

And the third lesson is perhaps the most important: we cannot indefinitely sustain the effort to eradicate polio. We have been on the ‘final stretch’ for several years now. Tantalizingly close to global eradication, but still falling one percent short. In 2020, we saw tremendous disruptions to our operations due to COVID-19. We never know when the next COVID-19 will come along, to again disrupt everything. Last year, the polio program came away with a very serious black eye, so to speak. But we have the opportunity to come back stronger. We must now capitalize on it. We know what we need to do to finish polio. We must now finish the job. We must all recommit and redouble our efforts. If we do that, we will give the world one less infectious disease to worry about once and for all.

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Location: Evanston, IL - USA
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