Rotary International’s highest international priority continues to be the global eradication of polio. It has long been a member of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) which includes the World Health Organisation (WHO), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). Rotary’s role in this initiative is to mobilise its global network of members to raise funds, awareness and advocate in support of the eradication effort.

There have been setbacks over the years, but also major accomplishments. In October 2019, the Global Commission for the Certification of the Eradication of Poliomyelitis announced the worldwide eradication of wild poliovirus type 3, coming just four years after the eradication of wild poliovirus type 2. The good news is this leaves only wild poliovirus type 1. The bad news is that wild poliovirus type 1 is endemic in Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan all of which are large, conflict-affected, with poor infrastructure and health systems. Until polio is eradicated from all three countries however, there will always be the risk of outbreaks elsewhere.

Community health workers have been the true heroes of this effort, often putting their lives at risk to ensure children do not suffer the consequences of not being vaccinated. Thirteen female vaccinators were killed in Nigeria in 2013. Vaccinators have also been targeted in Pakistan and Afghanistan including by the Taliban.  Despite these challenges, the GEPI’s current target for worldwide eradication is 2023. This would make polio only the second disease to have been eradicated with the first being smallpox in 1980. The 2023 target means the last cases of wild poliovirus would, down from 88 in 2019, take place next year to be followed by three years of monitoring to certify that eradication was indeed complete.

According to Rotary International, its members have contributed more than $2 billion to polio eradication since it launched the PolioPlus program in 1985, and is committed to raising $50 million a year for polio eradication activities. Because of a 2-to-1 matching agreement with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, $150 million a year can be dedicated to polio eradication.

To learn more how you can get involved, reach out to your local Rotary Clubs. You can find where they are and when they meet with the Rotary Club Locator.  Contributions through Rotary or any of the other GPEI members are also appreciated.