Polio Eradication


In 1985, Rotary International launched PolioPlus, a 20-year commitment to eradicate polio. PolioPlus is one of the most ambitious humanitarian undertakings ever made by a private entity. It will serve as a paradigm for private-public collaborations in the fight against disease well into the 21st century.

As the polio-eradication program grew, so did Rotary’s commitment and involvement. By 1990, Rotary moved from providing polio vaccine to children in developing countries to assisting health care workers in the field, providing training for laboratory personnel to track the polio virus and working with governments around the world in supporting the historic health drive. Rotary looks to celebrate the global eradication of polio in 2005, the organization’s centennial year.

How is Rotary involved in the global polio-eradication effort?

Financially: In 1985, Rotary was recognized by the World Health Organization as a non-governmental organization working in the field of international health. In the same year, Rotary set a goal to raise US$120 million to provide oral polio vaccine to newborns in the developing world. When the campaign ended, Rotary had doubled its goal, collecting more than $247 million. To date, the PolioPlus program has contributed $373 million to the protection of nearly 2 billion children. By 2005, Rotary’s financial commitment will reach nearly $500 million.

On-the-ground assistance: With its community-based network worldwide, Rotary is the volunteer arm of the global partnership dedicated to eradicating polio. Rotary volunteers assist in vaccine delivery, social mobilization, and logistical help in co-operation with the national health ministries, WHO, UNICEF, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Rotary’s volunteer efforts were instrumental in the eradication of polio from the Western Hemisphere, which was certified polio-free in 1994.

Rotary in action

In 1998, District 5360 (Canada) governor nominee Chuck Masur and his wife, Joanne, found a way to involve non-Rotarians in Rotary activities through the “Pennies for Polio” project. District 5360 Rotarians and their friends and families placed coin-collection cans in homes, schools, and businesses. District 5370 joined the effort, and shortly thereafter, districts across Canada and the northern United States followed. All funds collected were matched one-to-one by The Rotary Foundation. Canadian contributions, including the TRF match, were matched further by a C$1.4 million contribution from the Canadian International Development Agency, resulting in a nearly six-to-one match of the original contributions. More than C$2.5 million was raised, with all funds supporting National Immunization Days in Togo, Ethiopia, Cote d’Ivoire, Angola, Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Nigeria.
In 1999, more than 100,000 Indian Rotary members and their families joined the government of India in immunizing more than 130 million children on one day, signaling the largest public health event ever in the world.
In 1996 and 1997, Rotarians in Angola led a campaign to solicit corporate jets, helicopters, and vehicles to move vaccine through Angola’s land mine-infested countryside. Additional volunteers mobilized by a single Rotary club helped the government reach 80 percent of its target population of children under five years of age.
During the late 1980s, 11,000 Rotarians in Peru volunteered in a massive drive to eliminate the virus in one of the last South American countries in which polio still existed. Rotary volunteers assisted national health care workers in door-to-door immunization drives, transporting health care workers to remote vaccination centers, analyzing data, and publicizing the immunization days to raise awareness of the final assault against the crippling disease.
In countries where there are no Rotary clubs, like Somalia, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam, the PolioPlus program not only funded vaccines and promotional materials for National Immunization Days, it also provided on-site volunteer assistance from neighboring countries to assist national authorities in carrying out eradication exercises.
After extensive efforts to eradicate polio in Cambodia, health officials tracked the remaining pockets of polio to children living on the waterways, who had been missed by the previously held National Immunization Days. Rotary volunteers joined health officials in a boat-to-boat follow-up campaign to successfully reach this population and wipe out the virus.
In many developing countries, methods of communication vary from street plays to parades. Rotary members in India and Pakistan performed street dramas and organized rallies to educate parents about the need to immunize their children against polio.

The main objective of Rotary is service — in the community, in the workplace, and throughout the world. Rotarians develop community service projects that address many of today’s most critical issues, such as children at risk, poverty and hunger, the environment, illiteracy, and violence. They also support programs for youth, educational opportunities and international exchanges for students, teachers, and other professionals, and vocational and career development. The Rotary motto is Service Above Self.

Although Rotary clubs develop autonomous service programs, all Rotarians worldwide are united in a campaign for the global eradication of polio. In the 1980s, Rotarians raised US$240 million to immunize the children of the world; by 2005, Rotary’s centenary year and the target date for the certification of a polio-free world, the PolioPlus program will have contributed US$500 million to this cause. In addition, Rotary has provided an army of volunteers to promote and assist at national immunization days in polio-endemic countries around the world.

The Rotary Foundation of Rotary International is a not-for-profit corporation that promotes world understanding through international humanitarian service programs and educational and cultural exchanges. It is supported solely by voluntary contributions from Rotarians and others who share its vision of a better world. Since 1947, the Foundation has awarded more than US$1.1 billion in humanitarian and educational grants, which are initiated and administered by local Rotary clubs and districts.