Posted by Jim Purcell on Oct 28, 2019
October 24 is World Polio Day.  Many Rotary clubs in District 5050 and worldwide hold events in October to help generate awareness that the fight to end polio is not over.
Polio peaked in North America in 1955 amid an atmosphere of fear and tragedy. Vaccines were finally developed in 1955 to fight this terrible disease, and although vaccination turned the tide, the US and Canada were not polio free until 1979.
The fight to end polio globally started with a 1979 Rotary project in the Philippines. This evolved into the creation of Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) in 1988, which is a partnership of Rotary International, the World Health Organization, the US Center for Disease Control, UNICEF and the Gates Foundation.
From 350,000 cases globally in 1988, new cases have been reduced now by 99.9% to under 100. Only Afghanistan and Pakistan are now reporting new cases from the wild polio virus. Over 18,000,000 children have been saved from the paralysis of polio since 1988.
US$20 billion has been spent so far on this initiative. Governments provided about US$10 billion, of which USA 50% and Canada 10%. Rotary has donated US$2.2 billion and the Gates Foundation US$5 billion. The spend rate has been about US$1 billion per year for the past 10 years. Thousands of Rotarians have also provided countless days of volunteer time to implement the vaccination programs in dozens of countries.
What is the plan going forward? The target for no new cases is now 2023. The GPEI has a new Polio Endgame Strategy for 2022-2026 which will require another US$5.3 billion over the 5 years. Eradication is still considered the most cost-effective strategy compared to several other control strategies that were considered. The economic benefits of eradication are expected to exceed US$50 billion. Other benefits include immunization programs, surveillance, disease control, emergency response infrastructure and economic development. Ongoing costs post-2026 for immunization and surveillance are expected to be covered by countries’ internal funding.
There are some challenges remaining in the final push to eliminate this disease. Cases in Pakistan (Karachi) have rebounded in 2019 to above 2018 levels. Security fears, Taliban action, poor remote area access, and doubts about vaccinations may have contributed to this. The GPEI and the Pakistan government have committed to a new plan to address this, based on political will driven by the Prime Minister, building community support and public trust, and better coordination of resources.  Other challenges include vaccine-derived outbreaks, vaccine shortages, and expected USA government funding reduction. These challenges may slow down but will not block achievement of the goal. There’s no intention to pull back – the risks of doing that are too high. The good news is that as of October 5, 2021 there has only been one case of Wild Polio Virus in each of Pakistan and Afghanistan, both in January, 2021.
Rotary’s world-wide 2021-22 fundraising goal is US$150 million including the Gates Foundation $2 to $1 match. What can we do to support the cause?
  • Keep learning and educating
  • Keep fundraising
  • Keep donating
  • Encourage political and financial support for the GPEI
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