Rotarians have been working for the past forty years to eradicate polio. In fact, it is the top philanthropic priority for Rotary International, and the area in which we spend the most money. 

 

The first grant provided by Rotary to this end was made to Rotary Clubs in the Philippines in 1979 so that Rotarians there could immunize five million children. 

Polio, an infectious disease transmitted person to person through contaminated water, was killing 100 children a day at that time, and crippling thousands more. Rotarians took heart at the recent success in eliminating smallpox, and decided to take action to eradicate polio. 

In 1985 Rotary launched the Polio Plus challenge, setting a goal of raising $120 million within five years from among our 1.2 million members. By 1988, Rotarians had doubled our goal by raising $247 million. This success energized other global health entities, and that year the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was begun with the same goal - to eradicate polio worldwide. 

Working in partnership with the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, UNICEF, and local government agencies, Rotary first set its sights on eradicating polio by 2005. 

Success followed success. The last reported case of polio in the Americas was in 1991, and by 1994 the Western Hemisphere was declared polio-free. 

India’s first National Immunization Day, when 82 million children were vaccinated, was held in 1995. In 1996, Nelson Mandela officially launched “Kick Polio out of Africa.”

By 2002, 51 European countries were declared polio-free. In 2006, the only polio-endemic countries were Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Nigeria.

By 2007, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation noticed Rotary’s commitment to end polio. The Gates Foundation offered Rotary a $100 million challenge, which was raised to a $355 million challenge in 2009, if Rotarians would raise $200 million by 2012.

Rotary accepted the challenge, and six months before the deadline, our members raised $211 million.

By 2012, Rotary helped immunize 2.5 billion children 

Over the span of 40 years, working to eradicate polio in the world, Rotarians have raised more than $1.8 billion to fight this crippling disease.

Today, only Afghanistan and Pakistan are still reporting cases of polio. 

Yet, the challenge is more daunting than ever, as long-standing animosities and conflict have inhibited polio teams in those countries, and the recent COVID pandemic has slowed and even stopped polio prophylaxis in other countries. 

Today, all of the agencies involved have set their sights on December 2023 for a polio-free world.  

How do Rotarians of all ages help? We raise money from among our members to continue the fight, staff polio eradication teams worldwide, keep the issue in front of national leadership all around the world, and work hard to explain to new generations just why polio eradication is so important to their, and their children’s, health.  Rotarians all around the world focus on on the eradication of polio during the month of October, and pause late in that month to observe World Polio Day. 

But it is not just Rotary - the combined talents and efforts of millions of people, agencies and governments around the world  have brought us very close to eradicating polio, and have helped to develop the tools, techniques and management skills to reach even the most remote villages and transient peoples to eliminate this dread disease. 

Since even one polio case in the wild threatens all of us, Rotarians are resolved to continue supporting this global effort until the world can be declared finally free of this pernicious disease.