Rotary clubs worldwide take action to End Polio Now

Feb 22, 2013, 14:51 ET from Rotary International

Marking its 108th anniversary, service organization urges governments at every level to support global eradication effort

EVANSTON, Ill., Feb. 22, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Every year, Rotary clubs use the Feb. 23 anniversary of Rotary International as a platform to rally support for the humanitarian group's top priority: the global eradication of the crippling disease polio.


In a break from recent tradition of illuminating world landmarks with Rotary's pledge to End Polio Now, this year the organization is casting the spotlight on the need for governments worldwide to provide the approximately $1 billion in resources needed to build on significant gains against the disease achieved in 2012.

If the eradication initiative falters, experts warn, polio can quickly rebound and spread, soon paralyzing 200,000 children a year around the world.

In the days surrounding Feb. 23, Rotary's 108th anniversary, clubs are encouraged to invite elected leaders, government officials, and the general public to polio-themed club events to learn about the eradication effort and stress the importance of finishing a job that is 99 percent accomplished by reaching every child in the world with the oral polio vaccine.

In Canada, for example, Rotary members in the Vancouver area are devoting the first portion of a Feb. 23 peace forum to the polio eradication issue. Discussed will be the recent success of Pennies and More for Polio, an innovative fundraising campaign in which the Canadian government is matching one-to-one every dollar raised by Canadian Rotary members for polio eradication up to C$1 million. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation likewise pledged an equal match, meaning every Rotary dollar raised will leverage an additional two. Ontario Rotary clubs have added a similar polio component to their peace forum, set for March 2 in Toronto.

Rotary clubs are further encouraged to continue advocacy activities through April to build support for a Vaccine Summit that will be held April 24-25 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The summit, where funding commitments from donor countries around the world will be announced, will highlight the promise of polio eradication and its broader implication for all vaccine preventable diseases.

World's Biggest Commercial

To further help raise awareness and engage the general public, Rotary's interactive World's Biggest Commercial campaign gives everyone a chance to join Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Bill Gates, Jackie Chan, Amanda Peet and other world figures and celebrities already participating in Rotary's "This Close" campaign (as in, "this close" to ending polio).  Participants simply upload photos of themselves making the "this close" gesture with their fingers to the ever-expanding promotional spot at Rotary's End Polio Now website.

Along with helping Rotary set a new Guinness World Record, every person who joins the commercial can choose to add their name to a petition urging the world's governments to provide the US $5.5 billion needed to finish the job and end polio forever.

Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the country's largest pharmaceutical trade group, is so impressed with the World's Biggest Commercial that they've donated $50,000 to PolioPlus to spur participation in the campaign. That's enough to save 83,000 children from polio.

To date, more than 6,000 people from more than 120 countries have uploaded their pictures. A version of the World's Biggest Commercial will debut in mid-February in Times Square in New York City and run through March.

Banner year against polio – but challenges remain

Worldwide, fewer than 240 polio cases were confirmed for all of 2012, an all-time low, down from 650 cases in 2011.  Also in 2012, India – long considered an epicenter of the disease – was removed from the polio-endemic list after posting a full year with no new cases, leaving only Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan as countries where the wild poliovirus has never been stopped.

"It is imperative that governments step up and honor their commitments to polio eradication if we are to achieve our goal of a polio-free world," Rotary Foundation Chair Wilfrid Wilkinson said at a special polio meeting during the United Nations General Assembly in September 2012. "We are at a true tipping point, with success never closer than it is right now. We must seize the advantage by acting immediately, or risk breaking our pledge to the world's children."

Overall, the annual number of polio cases has plummeted by more than 99 percent since the 1980s, when polio infected about 350,000 children a year. More than two billion children have been immunized in 122 countries, preventing five million cases of paralysis and 250,000 deaths.

In 1988, Rotary helped launch the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, now led by Rotary, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Gates Foundation.

Since then, Rotary club members worldwide have contributed more than $1 billion and countless volunteer hours to the polio eradication effort. Also in 2012, Rotary leaders announced Rotary clubs had raised more than $220 million in response to a $355 million challenge grant from the Gates Foundation, which in turn contributed an additional $50 million in recognition of Rotary's commitment. All of the resulting $605 million will be spent in support of immunization activities in polio-affected countries.

About Rotary

Rotary is a global humanitarian organization with more than 1.2 million members in 34,000 Rotary clubs in over 200 countries and geographical areas. Rotary members are men and women who are business, professional and community leaders with a shared commitment to make the world a better place through humanitarian service. The first Rotary club was founded in Chicago in 1905. To download images and video please visit Rotary's Media Center.

SOURCE Rotary International