World Immunization Week holds a special place in the hearts of Rotarians.  While the week itself is about promoting vaccinations for all types of diseases, Rotary has a special project of immunization that has been running since the mid-eighties and is very close to eradicating a disease.
Australian Rotarian, the late Clem Renouf proposed a project of immunizing children in the Philippines agains Polio. It was considered impossible and a waste of money. Still, Queensland Rotarians picked up the project and were successful.
At the time that Renouf became the International President of Rotary, between 350,000 and 480,000 children were contracting Polio every year. Some died, some had limb deficiencies (short legs or arms), many would never walk, some lived in Iron Lungs for life and few got away from Polio with no long term effects.
The World Health Organisation joined with Rotary as did UNICEF. Later, the Centres for Disease Control, vaccine maker Gavi and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. All came together as the Global Polio Eradication Initiative to rid the world of this horrific disease.
Rotarians have individually and through their contacts with governments of the world, the United Nations and corporations have raised billions of dollars to tackle Polio and to give its eradication as a 'gift to the children of the world'.
On this day (18th April 2024), only two endemic countries exist - Pakistan and Afghanistan. Afghanistan has had one case of Wild Polio Virus and five positive environmental samples while Pakistan has reported no cases and twelve positive environmental samples. These few, down from hundreds of thousands in the mid 1980's.
The work of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative has provided much more that the eradication of Polio, as important as that is. The laboratories set up in countries that have poor medical assessment infrastructure have been and continue to be used for identification of other disease outbreaks. These include: Ebola, Covid 19, Avian Flu and Marbug virus among many others. The legacy of the Polio Eradication is ongoing and serves poorer countries well.
Rotary - End Polio Now