Rotary members worldwide prepare for mass polio-immunization
16 February 2009
Hundreds of Rotary club members from the United States, Canada,
Australia, Denmark, Italy, Korea, the United Kingdom and the Caribbean
will join thousands of their fellow Rotary members , other volunteers
and health workers over the next few months to immunize children against
polio in India and Nigeria.
Through Rotary International, the fight against this crippling
disease has been largely volunteer-driven. Never before has the
influence of the private sector played such a critical role in a global
public health effort.
"Rotary International is the top private sector contributor and
volunteer arm of the eradication initiative," says Dr. Margaret Chan,
director-general of the World Health Organization. "The 1.2 million
Rotarians envisioned a polio-free world, and then challenged governments
and health agencies to pursue this vision."
Overall, great progress has been made in the effort to end polio. In
the two decades since Rotary and its global partners launched the Global
Polio Eradication Initiative, cases worldwide have decreased by 99
percent. The disease remains endemic in just four countries —
Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan — although other countries
remain at risk for imported cases.
Rotary members are doing everything in their power to ensure success
during this final phase. Polio survivor Ann Lee Hussey, who will lead a
group to Nigeria for immunization activities in March, has volunteered
for immunization drives in a half-dozen countries. "I don't want any
child, anywhere, to go through the suffering that I and thousands of
other children experienced," she says. "Polio is a preventable disease
and we have the tools to eradicate it right now."
Rotary's commitment to end polio represents the largest
private-sector support of a global health initiative. Since 1985, Rotary
has raised nearly US$800 million worldwide, and has contributed
countless volunteer hours to help immunize more than two billion
children in 122 countries.
Dong Kurn Lee, president of Rotary International, notes that
volunteer efforts are an integral part of the global campaign against
polio. "It means so much to the two billion children now living lives
free from polio," he said. "Because of the work that The Rotary
Foundation has helped support, five million cases of paralysis and more
than 250,000 deaths from polio have been prevented. We are in the last
stages of the fight against polio."
To help address the critical funding gap for polio immunization
activities, Rotary has accepted a challenge from the Bill & Melinda
Gates Foundation to raise $200 million to match challenge grants
totalling $355 million. The resulting $555 million will support polio
eradication activities in the remaining polio-endemic and high-risk
A highly infectious disease, polio causes paralysis and is sometimes
fatal. As there is no cure, the best protection is prevention. For as
little as 60 cents worth of vaccine, a child can be protected against
this crippling disease for life. After an international investment of
$6.4 billion over 21 years, and the successful engagement of over 200
countries and 20 million volunteers, polio could be the first disease of
the 21st century to be eradicated.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is spearheaded by the World
Health Organization, Rotary International, the U.S. Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC) and the United Nations Children's Fund
(UNICEF). It includes the support of governments and private sector
Rotary is an organization of business and professional leaders united
worldwide to provide humanitarian service and help to build goodwill and
peace in the world. It is comprised of 1.2 million members working in
over 33,000 clubs in more than 170 countries. In addition to polio
eradication work, Rotary members initiate community projects that
address many of today's most critical issues such as violence, AIDS,
hunger, the environment and clean water.
For further information and to help with the money-raising campaign
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