For many people in the Western Hemisphere, Polio has become an historic disease, something from the 50s and 60s. In fact, cases of Polio have been eliminated in most Western countries since vaccination programs halted the spread of the virus by 1991. But worldwide the disease is at an emergency level which is why the Rotary Organisation is so committed to eradicating Polio and has been for the last 25 years. Many believe that the window of opportunity for eradication is closing so it is imperative that we act now!

We are “this close” to ending polio. Ziggy Marley is a Rotary polio ambassador, and this song appears on “End Polio Now,” an album to benefit the fight to end this devastating disease. Available on iTunes.

What is Polio?

Polio, or ‘Poliomyelitis’, is a highly contagious viral infection that can lead to paralysis, breathing problems, or even death. As with many diseases, the most vulnerable in our community are the most susceptible such as children, pregnant women and those with a low immune system. 95% of cases are classified as asymptomatic polio (meaning there are no visible symptoms) but the remainder of the cases can result in serious health concerns. Once infected, there is no cure for Polio, so treatments are focused primarily on increasing comfort, managing symptoms and preventing further complications.

Why is Polio at an emergency level today?

Those of us that assumed Polio was a thing of the past will be horrified to learn that there has recently been an explosion in reported cases in areas such as Africa, Tajikistan and China has had its first cases for more than a decade. The virus is also still endemic in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Niger.

Bruce Aylward, head of the WHO’s polio eradication campaign, recently said: “Over the last 24 months on three continents – in Europe, in Africa and in Asia – we have seen horrific explosive outbreaks of the disease that affected adults, and in some cases 50% of them died.”

The World Health Organisation sums up the worldwide Polio concern with – ‘as long as Polio threatens even one child in the world, children everywhere remain at risk’. There is a very real possibility that if Polio is not eradicated soon the disease will re-emerge with disastrous consequences for the entire global community. By immunising children, the disease will be stopped so the challenge now is to find every unvaccinated child and ensure that not only are they safe from the disease but that they are unable to carry and infect others.

What is Rotary doing to eradicate Polio?

Rotary has joined forces with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to fund vaccination programs in developing countries where Polio is still causing infection, paralysis and death. Rotary aims to raise US$200 million to match the foundation’s contribution of US$355 million in challenge grants.

Programs are working. In February 2012, India, once considered one of the most challenging countries in terms of Polio eradication, was declared Polio free thanks to the tireless work of health workers and an aggressive vaccination program. In 1988 the World Health Organisation began an initiative to eradicate the Polio virus and since then the number of cases has fallen by 99.9% and the number of countries reporting new infections has dropped from 125 to 10. But that is 10 too many!

How can I help Rotary to End Polio Now?

In 2012 Rotary predicts a US$535 million funding gap. You can help fill this gap and support the work of Rotary to end Polio. For more information please go to Together, as a global community, we can put an end to this disease – but the time to act is now!