Rotarians walk to end polio
By Ian Ada
President - Rotary Club of Carlton
World Polio Day was on October 24, when we were all reminded of the wonderful work that has been done to reduce 99.9 per cent of the annual polio cases that had occurred in 1988.
But how much more still needs to be done. We are so close to eradicating only the second disease in human history, after smallpox.
Rotary International (RI) has been working to eradicate polio for more than 35 years by launching PolioPlus in 1985. This was the first and largest internationally coordinated private-sector support of a public health initiative, with an initial fundraising target of US$120 million. At that time there were almost 40,000 cases worldwide.
By 2000 a record 550 million children – almost 10 per cent of the world’s population – had received the oral polio vaccine. The Western Pacific region, spanning from Australia to China, was declared polio-free.
The number of polio-endemic countries had dropped to four by 2006 – Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan.
In 2009 Rotary’s overall contribution to the eradication effort neared $800 million and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation pledged $355 million. Because India went three full years without a new case caused by wild poliovirus, the World Health Organization certified the South-East Asia region polio-free.
The whole of Africa was certified wild polio-free in 2020. Although polio is now only endemic in Afghanistan and Pakistan, hundreds of millions of children are still vaccinated every year to ensure it does not spread.
Rotary Clubs and individual members have now contributed more than $2.1 billion through the Rotary Foundation, and countless volunteer hours to protect nearly three billion children in 122 countries from this paralysing disease. Rotary’s advocacy efforts have also played a role in decisions by governments to contribute more than $10 billion to the effort.
To acknowledge World Polio Day, Rotary in Australia and New Zealand encouraged members and their friends and family to “Walk With Us” during October, for those who can’t.
Rotary Club of Carlton members, family and friends raised $4220. Every $100 raised buys 300 Super Combo Vaccines for Polio, Measles and Tetanus. Therefore, Carlton Rotary’s contributions would buy enough vaccine to prevent more than 12,500 children from dying or becoming permanently incapacitated from these easily preventable diseases.
However, if all eradication efforts stopped today, within 10 years, polio could again paralyse as many as 200,000 children each year. •