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

The COVID-19 pandemic has created health challenges that go beyond the disease itself. In May 2020, the World Health Organization reported that, worldwide, 80 million children under age one were not receiving vaccines for a variety of diseases. Pausing vaccinations — which involve close contact between vaccinators, infants, and their families — was necessary in the face of the pandemic. But as UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore warns, “We cannot exchange one deadly outbreak for another.”

Amid these challenges, Rotary’s contributions toward polio eradication are more important than ever. In January 2020, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Rotary renewed their longstanding partnership, committing to raise an additional $450 million for polio eradication over the next three years. Rotary is committed to raising $50 million each year, with every dollar to be matched with two additional dollars from the Gates Foundation. “While response to the COVID-19 pandemic is an urgent global health priority, we cannot let our progress against polio backslide,” says Michael K. McGovern, chair of Rotary’s International PolioPlus Committee and a member of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) Polio Oversight Board. “Our recent success in Africa shows that a polio-free world is achievable, but renewed focus and support for ongoing efforts in the two remaining endemic countries must be prioritized in order to deliver on our promise of a polio-free world.”

In March, the GPEI helped mount a worldwide response to the COVID-19 pandemic, tapping the infrastructure created for polio vaccination and surveillance. All the while, it dedicated funds and other resources to resuming polio vaccination efforts as soon as it was safe to do so, and to adjusting the vaccination and surveillance infrastructure as needed.

When COVID-19 emerged, the GPEI brought decades of experience to the response. While critical functions of the polio eradication effort continued, polio workers became involved in contact tracing, testing, and educating communities about hand washing and other ways to reduce transmission of and exposure to COVID-19. In many cases, they carried out both polio eradication and COVID-19 response activities simultaneously.

The polio eradication infrastructure has proved invaluable in the pandemic: GPEI hotlines, emergency operations centers, computers, and vehicles were all enlisted to support the COVID-19 response. In Nigeria, World Health Organization field offices, which are used to coordinate polio eradication efforts, have doubled as hubs for WHO teams focused on COVID-19. In Pakistan, hundreds of polio surveillance officers have been trained in COVID-19 surveillance. In Afghanistan, volunteers who educate communities about polio have been trained to teach people about COVID-19, including hand washing and other preventive measures.

Polio immunization activities began resuming in July, with precautions taken to protect frontline workers and communities. With funding from Rotary members, Rotary issued more than $50 million in PolioPlus grants in June to support polio eradication work in Afghanistan and Pakistan (the last two countries where wild polio remains endemic) and across Africa. In Afghanistan, communications and community outreach work (called “social mobilization”) is crucial; this has included distributing 3 million bars of soap to promote hygiene, protect against polio and COVID-19, and improve local reception of vaccination efforts. In Pakistan, the social mobilization effort has a special focus on outreach to local religious leaders, who can promote vaccinations in mosque announcements and sermons.

In June, WHO committed to funding a Subnational Immunization Day in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the first quarter of 2021. A $3 million grant from Rotary will help fund vaccinations for an anticipated 8.4 million children in that country.

The WHO Regional Office for Africa continues polio surveillance in 47 countries across the continent. A $4 million PolioPlus grant will fund lab and surveillance activities such as collecting and transporting stool samples and conducting training. It will also support procedural changes made necessary by COVID-19.

As Rotary marked World Polio Day in October 2020, members knew that even in the face of a pandemic, the important work of fighting polio must continue. 


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Rotary celebrates World Polio Day
Rotary celebrates World Polio Day

Rotary’s 2020 World Polio Day Update program on 24 October hailed this year’s historic achievement in polio eradication: Africa being declared free from the wild polio virus. 

Paralympic medalist and TV presenter Ade Adepitan, who co-hosted this year’s program, says that the eradication of polio in Africa was personal for him. “Since I was born in Nigeria, this achievement is close to my heart,” says Adepitan, a polio survivor who contracted the disease as a child. “I’ve been waiting for this day since I was young.”

He noted that, just a decade ago, three-quarters of all of the world’s polio cases caused by the wild virus were contracted in Africa. Now, more than a billion Africans are safe from the disease. “But we’re not done,” Adepitan cautions. “We’re in pursuit of an even greater triumph — a world without polio. And I can’t wait.”

Rotary Foundation Trustee Geeta Manek, who co-hosted the program with Adepitan, says that World Polio Day is an opportunity for Rotary members to be motivated to “continue this fight.”

She added, “Rotarians around the world are working tirelessly to support the global effort to end polio.”

A collective effort

Dr. Tunji Funsho, chair of Rotary’s Nigeria PolioPlus Committee and a member of the Rotary Club of Lekki Phase 1, Lagos State, Nigeria, told online viewers that the milestone couldn’t have been reached without the efforts of Rotary members and leaders in Africa and around the world.

Funsho, who was recently named one of TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2020, says countless Rotarians helped by holding events to raise awareness and to raise funds or by working with governments to secure funding and other support for polio eradication.

“Polio eradication is truly a collective effort ... This accomplishment belongs to all of us,” says Funsho.

Rotary and its members have contributed nearly $890 million toward polio eradication efforts in the African region. The funds have allowed Rotary to award PolioPlus grants to fund polio surveillance, transportation, awareness campaigns, and National Immunization Days.

This year’s World Polio Day Online Global Update was streamed on Facebook in several languages and in a number of time zones around the world. The program, which was sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, features Jeffrey Kluger, editor at large for TIME magazine; Mark Wright, TV news host and member of the Rotary Club of Seattle, Washington, USA; and Angélique Kidjo, a Grammy Award-winning singer who performs her song “M’Baamba.”

The challenges of 2020

It’s impossible to talk about 2020 without mentioning the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than a million people and devastated economies around the world.

In the program, a panel of global health experts from Rotary’s partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) discussed how the infrastructure that Rotary and the GPEI have built to eradicate polio has helped communities tackle needs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, too.

“The infrastructure we built through polio in terms of how to engage communities, how to work with communities, how to rapidly teach communities to actually deliver health interventions, do disease surveillance, et cetera, has been an extremely important part of the effort to tackle so many other diseases,” said Dr. Bruce Aylward, senior adviser to the director general at the WHO.

Panelists also included Dr. Christopher Elias, president of the Global Development Division of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Henrietta H. Fore, executive director of UNICEF; and Rebecca Martin, director of the Center for Global Health at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Elias said that when there are global health emergencies, such as outbreaks of other contagious diseases, Rotarians always help. “They take whatever they’ve learned from doing successful polio campaigns that have reached all the children in the village, and they apply that to reaching them with yellow fever or measles vaccine.”

The program discussed several pandemic response tactics that rely on polio eradication infrastructure: Polio surveillance teams in Ethiopia are reporting COVID-19 cases, and emergency operation centers in Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan that are usually used to fight polio are now also being used as coordination centers for COVID-19 response.

The online program also included a video of brave volunteer health workers immunizing children in the restive state of Borno, Nigeria, and profiles a community mobilizer in Afghanistan who works tirelessly to ensure that children are protected from polio.

Kluger spoke with several people, including three Rotary members, about their childhood experiences as “Polio Pioneers” — they were among more than a million children who took part in a huge trial of Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine in the 1950s.

The future of the fight against polio

Rotary’s challenge now is to eradicate the wild poliovirus in the two countries where the disease has never been stopped: Afghanistan and Pakistan. Routine immunizations must also be strengthened in Africa to keep the virus from returning there.

To eradicate polio, multiple high-quality immunization campaigns must be carried out each year in polio-affected and high-risk countries. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s necessary to maintain populations’ immunity against polio while also protecting health workers from the coronavirus and making sure they don’t transmit it.

Rotary has contributed more than $2.1 billion to polio eradication since it launched the PolioPlus program in 1985, and it’s committed to raising $50 million each year for polio eradication activities. Because of a 2-to-1 matching agreement with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, that means that, each year, $150 million goes toward fulfilling Rotary’s promise to the children of the world: No child will ever again suffer the devastating effects of polio.


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By Bernard, Rotary member, Phillipines

In early 2019, the Rotary Club of Cebu in the Philippines gathered to figure out what we could do to raise immunization rates on our island. We were troubled that in 2018 only 66 percent of children received doses of the oral polio vaccine.

Rotary’s campaign to eradicate polio began in our country four decades ago when Rotary International teamed up with the World Health Organization and the Philippine Ministry of Health to vaccinate 6 million Filipino children. We decided we needed to do something to persuade parents to vaccinate their children and get rates back to the 95 percent level that is necessary to prevent outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases like polio.

In 2015, I took part in El Tour de Tucson, raising $60,000 in pledges for PolioPlus. I had the privilege of joining Rotary cyclists from all over the United States and other countries in the Ride to End Polio, which was organized by District 5500. Those memories were fresh in my mind as we planned our own ride, the Cebu Perimeter Ride to End Polio, for 22-24 November 2019.

We recruited 20 riders to circle the island, a distance of 576 kilometers (or roughly 360 miles), in three days. Completing a perimeter ride symbolized our desire to protect our island from this dreaded disease. Our goal was to raise awareness and money for PolioPlus, but also to vaccinate children against polio. We collaborated with the Ministry of Health and local officials to hold mass immunization events in several communities along the way.

The event was a huge success! I’m sharing the steps we took to help others who want to hold their own polio event:

  • We rode together in a group whenever possible to enhance visibility. We also wore bright jerseys that we had designed locally.
  • Two weeks before the event, we distributed large tarps and signs to retailers all over the island to arouse interest.
  • We worked with local governments and health officials to identify towns along our route where we could hold mass immunization events. We hired clowns and entertainers to make these events fun and handed out goody bags to keep the children entertained while they waited to be vaccinated.
  • We decorated five support vehicles with End Polio Now signage and a message about the importance of vaccinations.
  • During our ride, a large truck went ahead of us to attract attention, with loudspeakers playing a jingle that our Ministry of Health has made famous. Two buses followed with billboards marked with End Polio Now and information about our next stop.
  • At the rallies, we distributed “This household is polio free” patches to families to continue building awareness after the ride.

I can’t emphasize enough how critical it is to coordinate with local and government officials. We worked with the Ministry of Health, the same organization Rotary International partnered with 40 years ago. I met with ministry officials and municipal mayors, and because I’m a Rotarian, I was able to communicate Rotary’s commitment to ending polio and demonstrate our desire to work with our partners to end this disease. It wasn’t hard to persuade them to join our efforts.

We rode about seven hours each day. The second day was the hardest because the adrenaline we experienced the first day had worn off and we were riding into the wind. But by day three, our energy was restored, helping us to maneuver through an unexpected patch of off-road riding. Every time we arrived in a town to vaccinate children, while the rest of the riders rested, I met with the mayor and handled publicity.

It was personally exhausting, but also deeply satisfying. We raised $20,000 for PolioPlus and were greeted by hundreds of children and their parents in every town we visited. When you’re exhausted from riding, this kind of response is just what you need to carry on.

We continue to organize other efforts to raise awareness for polio eradication and the need to vaccinate against preventable diseases. If you would like more information about our ride, contact us through our website or on Facebook.


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Rotary and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced on 22 January that their long-term fundraising partnership, which generates up to $150 million annually for polio eradication, will continue. Under the agreement, Rotary is committed to raising $50 million a year over the next three years, and each dollar will be matched with an additional two dollars by the Gates Foundation.

In a video address at the 2020 Rotary International Assembly in San Diego, California, USA, Bill Gates told incoming district governors that the partnership with Rotary needs to continue.

“The Gates Foundation’s longstanding partnership with Rotary has been vital to fighting polio,” Gates said. “That’s why we’re extending our funding match, so every dollar that Rotary raises is met with two more.”

He added, “I believe that together, we can make eradication a reality.”

The funding will support polio eradication efforts such as disease surveillance, technical assistance, and operational support for immunization activities.

The partnership between Rotary and the Gates Foundation has yielded $2 billion, and Rotarians have given countless volunteer hours to fight polio since Rotary started its PolioPlus program in 1985.

Be a part of the fight to end polio and have your donation matched 2-to-1 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. .



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The program has immunized 2.5 billion children
The program has immunized 2.5 billion children

Rotary and its partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) celebrated a major milestone this World Polio Day: confirmation that a second type of the wild poliovirus has been eradicated, which is a significant step toward the ultimate goal of a polio-free world.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), announced the historic feat in a video address during Rotary’s Global Online Update on 24 October. He said an independent commission of health experts certified the global eradication of the type 3 strain, which hasn't been detected anywhere in the world since Nigeria identified a case of polio that it caused in November 2012. The type 2 strain was certified as eradicated in 2015.

“That leaves just wild poliovirus type 1,” Tedros said. He also commended Rotary’s long fight against polio. “Everything you [Rotary] have done has brought us to the brink of a polio-free world.”

Tedros balanced the good news with a note of caution, saying that the biggest enemy of global eradication is complacency. He encouraged Rotary members to redouble their efforts.

If we stopped now, the virus would resurge and could once again cause more than 200,000 new cases every year,” said Tedros. “We must stay the course. Together, we can make sure the children of the future only learn about polio in history books.”

Rotary’s World Polio Day program this year was streamed on Facebook in multiple languages and multiple time zones around the world. The program, which was sponsored by UNICEF USA and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, featured TV presenter and Paralympic medalist Ade Adepitan, supermodel Isabeli Fontana, science educator Bill Nye, and actress Archie Panjabi.

The program also featured never-before-seen footage of three Rotary members working to protect children from polio in their home countries of India, Pakistan, and Ukraine. In Pakistan, Rotarian Tayyaba Gul works with a team of health workers to educate mothers and children about the importance of polio vaccination. Dr. Hemendra Verma of India encourages his fellow Rotary members and our partners to make sure health workers and volunteers reach every child. And Ukrainian Rotarian Sergii Zavadskyi oversees an advocacy and awareness program that uses social media and public events to educate people who are reluctant to have their children vaccinated. These three heroes of the polio eradication effort show what it means to be a dedicated volunteer, and represent the efforts of Rotarians all over the world.

Adepitan, a polio survivor who contracted the disease as a child in Nigeria, praised the efforts in that country, which hasn’t reported finding wild poliovirus in more than three years. “This is massive news,” Adepitan said.

Nigeria’s milestone clears the way for the entire WHO African region to be certified wild poliovirus-free next year. Adepitan reminded people just how far the continent has come, saying that even a decade ago, Africa reported nearly 75 percent of all polio cases worldwide.

“Today more than a billion African people are at the cusp of a future where wild polio is a disease of the past,” he said. “We’re not done. We’re in pursuit of an even greater triumph — a world without polio. I can’t wait.”

Scientist Bill Nye talked about some people’s reluctance to use vaccines, which he called a dangerous issue around the world. “As the conversation around vaccines becomes more hostile, we’re seeing an increase in outbreaks of preventable diseases. It’s not just measles. It’s rotavirus. Tetanus. Even polio,” he said. However, he said: “The science on vaccinations is settled. There is no dispute.”

Look even just at what Rotary and its partners have achieved since 1988, when the GPEI was formed, Nye said. Three decades ago, the disease affected 350,000 children in one year. Because of massive vaccination campaigns around the world, the number of polio cases has decreased by more than 99.9 percent.

“That’s about as concrete as evidence gets for preventative medicine,” Nye said.

 Rotary's 2019 World Polio Day Global Online Update highlights the frontline workers who make polio eradication possible and the milestones that the program achieved this past year.

2019 proves that challenges remain

Despite these accomplishments, polio cases are rising in areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan that face tremendous challenges: They are difficult to get to and travel in, they are often not secure enough for vaccinators to do their work, and people are highly mobile. In all of 2018, these two countries reported just 33 wild poliovirus cases. The 2019 case count is so far is 116, and health experts predict more cases to come.

Michel Zaffran, director of polio eradication at WHO, discussed the increased number of cases in Afghanistan and Pakistan. “At its core, polio eradication is very simple: If you vaccinate enough children in given areas, then the virus has nowhere to hide and eventually disappears,” Zaffran said.

It gets more complicated, he said, when thousands of children are not being vaccinated in some areas. “The reasons vary greatly, district to district, in both countries,” he added. “It could be because there is hampered access due to insecurity, lack of infrastructure, lack of clean water supply, inadequate planning of campaigns, community resistance, and other reasons.”

To combat any further spread of the disease, Zaffran says health workers are evaluating each area to understand why a child is missed and making customized plans to overcome the area's specific challenges.

This approach is similar to how health experts overcame the last hurdles in India, which was declared polio-free in 2014.

“I encourage Rotary members everywhere to stick with it and stay optimistic,” Zaffran said. “Keep raising funds and awareness, advocate with governments. We truly are on the cusp of eradicating a disease for only the second time in human history.”

If it is eradicated, polio would follow smallpox as the second human disease eliminated from the world.

Rotary has contributed more than $2 billion to polio eradication since it launched the PolioPlus program in 1985, and is committed to raising $50 million a year for polio eradication activities. Because of a 2-to-1 matching agreement with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, that means that $150 million a year goes toward fulfilling Rotary's promise to the children of the world: no child will ever again suffer the devastating effects of polio.

Rotary members in the fight against polio
Rotary members in the fight against polio


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The Rotary Foundation of Rotary International

Location: Evanston, IL - USA
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