Annual Oct. 24 observance highlights progress in the global effort to end polio
EVANSTON, Ill., USA (Oct. 22, 2013) —World Polio Day 2013 (Oct. 24) provides a golden opportunity for Rotary and its partners to build public support for the historic final push now underway to wipe out thisdisabling viral disease once and for all.
In Chicago, where the humanitarian service organization was founded in 1905, Rotary and Northwestern University’s Center for Global Health will convene an international panel of experts to discuss the progress of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, which Rotary co-launched in 1988. The event, World Polio Day: Making History, will be streamed live to a global online audience at endpolionow.org from Northwestern University’s John Hughes Auditorium, 303 E. Superior St., Chicago, beginning at 5:30 p.m. CST on Oct. 24.
Confirmed panelists include Dr. Bruce Aylward, the world’s leading expert on polio eradication and assistant director-general for polio, emergencies and country collaboration at the World Health Organization; Dr. Robert Murphy, director of Northwestern University’s Center for Global Health; and U.S. ParalympianDennis Ogbe,a polio survivor and ambassador for the United Nations Foundation’s Shot@Life program. An executive with Brown-Forman Co., Ogbe is originally from Nigeria, one of only three countries where the wild poliovirus has never been stopped.
Also invited is Emmy award-winning actress Archie Panjabi, one of Rotary’s End Polio Now celebrity ambassadors. In 2012, Panjabi helped Rotary volunteers immunize children in India, where she spent part of her childhood. Once considered the nation facing the most serious challenges to eradication, India was removed from the polio-endemic list in January 2012. If Panjabi is unable to attend in person, the Chicago program will include exclusive video of her work in India.
This year, World Polio Day fundraisers will have greater impact due to the new fundraising campaign, End Polio Now: Make History Today, recently launched by Rotary and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Gates Foundation will match two for one every new dollar Rotary commits to polio eradication up to US$35 million per year through 2018.
“World Polio Day provides an important and timely opportunity for us to let the world know that every dollar contributed to Rotary for polio eradication will work three times as hard,” said Dr. Robert S. Scott, MD, chair of Rotary’s PolioPlus program. “Rotary invites everyone — private citizens, businesses, non-profits – to join us in this historic effort. Only one other human disease – smallpox – has ever been beaten. Now is our best chance ever to make polio the second.”
Rotary clubs in every region are planning an array of activities on or leading up to World Polio Day.
- Rotary clubs in India plan a nationwide series of outdoor illuminations carrying Rotary’s “End Polio Now” message on World Polio Day. In January, India will celebrate three years of no new polio cases, a huge milestone for a country once considered to harbor the most serious challenges to eradication.
- Scores of Rotary clubs worldwide are working with local schools to organize Purple Clothes Dayson Oct. 18, the Friday before World Polio Day, encouraging each student to wear a purple item of clothing and make a small donation to Rotary’s polio eradication program. The concept began with Rotary clubs in England, inspired by the purple dye that health workers in polio-affected countries place on children’s pinky fingers to show they have received the oral polio vaccine.Similarly, many Rotary clubs in England, Kenya and elsewhere are selling fabric “purple crocus” lapel pins in support of polio eradication.
- In Kenya, Rotary clubs will work with partnering agencies and the national government to use World Polio Day to launch the next round of national polio immunization activities in early November, a campaign deemed critical due to the recent outbreak of imported cases throughout the Horn of Africa.
- Rotary clubs in Lagos, Nigeria, are partnering with the Cycology Riding Club to do a six-hour relay bicycle ride on Oct. 19 to promote World Polio Day and the national immunization rounds set for early November. The event is reportedly Nigeria’s first-ever bike-a-thon.
- In partnership with UNICEF, Rotary clubsin Pakistan, another polio-endemic country, on World Polio Day will begin distributing 5,000 copies of a 16-page “speaking book” that health workers and parents can use to teach young children the importance of polio vaccinations and basic hygiene. The audio version of the text is in the regional languages of Urdu and Pashto.
- In Spain and Portugal, Rotary clubs are generating public support for polio eradication via the crowd-speaking platform, Thunderclap, in a campaign that concludes on World Polio Day.
Rotary and polio eradication
In 1988, Rotary helped launch the Global Polio Eradication Initiative with the WHO, UNICEF, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since then, Rotary club members worldwide have contributed more than $1.2 billion and countless volunteer hours to the polio eradication effort.
Overall, the annual number of new polio cases has plummeted by more than 99 percent since the 1980s, when polio infected about 350,000 children a year. Only 223 new cases were recorded for all of 2012. More than two billion children have been immunized in 122 countries, preventing five million cases of paralysis and 250,000 deaths. Polio today remains endemic in only three countries, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan, although “imported” cases in previously polio-free areas – such as the Horn of Africa — will continue to occur until the virus is finally stopped in the endemic countries.
Rotary is a global network of volunteer leaders dedicated to tackling the world’s most pressing humanitarian challenges. Rotary’s 1.2 million members hail from more than 200 countries and geographical areas. Their work improves lives at both the local and international levels, from helping families in need in their own communities to working toward a polio-free world. For more information, visit rotary.org and endpolionow.org.