Although the world is now 99.9% free of polio, the disease persists in some places. It can still paralyze and even kill those who contract it, usually children.
This month, the world marks historic progress in global public health, just one year after India and all of Southeast Asia were declared polio-free.
As of July 24, 2015, it’s been one year since the last case of polio was detected in Nigeria. That’s the longest the country has ever gone without a case of polio, and it’s a critical step on the path toward a polio-free Africa. If the World Health Organization removes Nigeria from its list of polio-endemic countries, which may happen later this year, only two will remain: Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Experts caution that the next two years will be critical to ensuring that Nigeria remains on track to achieve polio-free status. The support of donors, governments, and partners like Rotary is needed more than ever to maintain high-quality polio campaigns in Nigeria, particularly in remote and underserved areas, and to prevent the disease’s return.
Over the last 30 years, Rotary and its partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative have made remarkable progress toward a polio-free world, and more than 13 million people, mainly in the developing world, who would otherwise have been paralyzed, are walking because they have been immunized against polio.
Rotary, the world’s largest humanitarian service organization, was well equipped to take on this challenge when it launched its PolioPlus program in 1985. Rotary’s thousands of volunteers directed grassroots projects to advocate for immunization, educate religious and community leaders about its benefits, and raise awareness of polio using local languages. They put their business acumen to work to maximize the impact of seed money and grants. PolioPlus has also implemented creative solutions to the challenges it faced in Nigeria, installing vaccination posts on the perimeter of destabilized areas to target transient populations. Rotary members played a critical role in helping Nigeria reach one year without a case of polio. On August 11, Africa could, too.
Rotary members have donated $688.5 million to fight polio throughout Africa, including more than $200 million that’s been directed to Nigeria. Rotary members have also devoted countless hours to immunizing the children there, who now have the opportunity to lead healthier, happier lives.
Evanston is unique in the world to have two local Rotary clubs and the headquarters of Rotary International in our community, all working to support the goal of global polio eradication.
Over the last 20 years, the Rotary Club of Evanston and the Rotary Club of Evanston Lighthouse have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the global polio eradication effort raised through fundraising and through the individual donations of local Rotarians.
Rotary’s PolioPlus program has yielded dividends beyond reducing cases of polio. The polio immunization infrastructure it helped establish in Nigeria was used to end the 2014 Ebola outbreak there swiftly.
Nigeria’s success also proves that decisive public health interventions are possible despite ongoing instability in parts of the country. Like Nigeria, the two remaining polio-endemic countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan, have faced security threats that provided challenges to polio eradication. However, Pakistan – which accounted for nearly 90 percent of the world’s polio cases in 2014 – has likewise made progress recently. As of June, the country had reported a reduction of nearly 70 percent in the number of cases thus far in 2015 compared with the same period last year. If the world’s commitment to polio eradication remains strong, we can be cautiously optimistic that we will soon have a polio-free world.
Through a matching program with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, every dollar you donate to The Rotary Foundation, Rotary’s charitable arm, for polio eradication (up to $35 million per year) will be tripled. With your support, we can end polio now.