Editor’s Note: This post, first published in July, has been revised to reflect the new milestone reached in our fight to eradicate polio, and to celebrate Membership and New Club Development Month. Rotary members have many opportunities to make a difference, including being part of history as we seek a polio-free world. Rotary members have led the way in fundraising, advocacy, and lining up volunteer support for polio eradication.
By Michael McGovern, chair of Rotary’s International PolioPlus Committee
Africa has now marked a full year with no new cases of polio caused by the wild poliovirus anywhere on the continent.
This is the longest the continent has ever gone without a case of polio and a critical step on the path toward a polio-free Africa. We’ve come a long way; it was only a decade ago that polio struck 12,631 people in Africa – three-quarters of all cases in the world.
Last year, thanks to its extensive polio eradication infrastructure, Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria, was able to reduce polio cases by 90 percent and thwart the deadly Ebola virus with a swift, “world-class” response.
I had the privilege of speaking earlier this year at the UN Economic and Social Council about Rotary’s work as part of the Global Polio Eradication
Initiative. The UN wanted to hear from the most successful partnerships in the world of human development, and it was a great honor to talk about the achievements in which you have all played a part.
Rotary members have led the way when it comes to fundraising, advocacy, raising awareness, and generating volunteer support to tackle polio. We’ve partnered with the best in the world to get the job done – the World Health Organization, UNICEF, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Our role as constituents in both the polio-affected countries and the countries whose governments help fund the effort has ensured that all partners in the initiative have maintained their political commitment and financial backing for the drive to eradicate polio from the human experience.
Rotary members have also been extremely generous, donating $688.5 million to fight polio throughout Africa, including more than $200 million to Nigeria.
However, if we stop now, all our work could be easily undone. We must do all we can to protect the progress made in Nigeria. The World Health Organization demands three years of no new polio cases before we can safely say that Nigeria and the African region are free of polio.
We must also do all we can to support Pakistan and Afghanistan, the other two remaining polio-endemic countries.
Protecting progress means enhancing surveillance, routine immunization, and community engagement, while eradicating polio in endemic countries requires all this and more. If we are to make history, we need to ensure every child is vaccinated without fail.
Visit endpolio.org to download a tool kit of materials to help you share this progress – and the need for continued commitment in the coming years – with your Rotary club, your communities, and your elected officials.
The final push also requires substantial investment. Your donation to PolioPlus will be matched 2-to-1 by the Gates Foundation, tripling your contribution.
We are on the verge of eradicating a human disease for only the second time in history, after smallpox. Three decades ago, Rotary shared its vision for a polio-free world. Let’s make that vision come to life, today.