Polio Eradication History Through Rotary
Rotarian Md. Nakibul Hasan Khan
Polio, or poliomyelitis, is a paralyzing and potentially deadly infectious disease that most commonly affects children under the age of 5. The virus spreads from person to person, typically through contaminated water. It can then attack the nervous system.
Rotary spearheaded the campaign at a time when there were over 1,000 polio cases a day in 125 countries, paralyzing and even killing children. Today, the number of cases is down by 99.9%. Over the last 35 years, Rotary members, working with communities around the world, have contributed more than US$2.1 billion and countless volunteer hours to the fight to end polio.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) was launched in 1988. This remarkable partnership includes Rotary, World Health Organization, UNICEF, the US Center for Disease Control & Prevention and, more recently, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and GAVI the Vaccine Alliance. These organizations work alongside governments of the world to end polio.
1894: The first major documented polio outbreak in the United States occurs in Vermont; 18 deaths and 132 cases of permanent paralysis are reported.
1905: Swedish physician Ivar Wickman suggests that polio is a contagious disease that can spread from person to person, and also recognizes that polio could be present in people who show no symptoms.
1908: 2 physicians in Vienna, Karl Landsteiner and Erwin Popper, discover that polio is caused by a virus.
1916: A major polio outbreak in New York City kills more than 2,000 people. Across the United States, polio takes the lives of about 6,000 people, and paralyzes thousands more.
1929: Philip Drinker and Harvard University's Louis Agassiz Shaw Jr. invent an artificial respirator for patients suffering from paralytic polio - the iron lung.
1955: A vaccine developed by Dr. Jonas Salk is declared "safe and effective."
1960: The U.S. government licenses the oral polio vaccine developed by Dr. Albert Sabin.
1979: Rotary International begins its fight against polio with a multi-year project to immunize 6 million children in the Philippines.
1985: Rotary International launches PolioPlus, the first and largest internationally coordinated private-sector support of a public health initiative, with an initial fundraising target of US$120 million.
1988: Rotary International and the World Health Organization launch the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. There are an estimated 350,000 cases of polio in 125 countries.
1994: The International Commission for the Certification of Poliomyelitis Eradication announces that polio has been eliminated from the Americas.
1995: Health workers and volunteers immunize 165 million children in China and India in 1 week. Rotary launches the PolioPlus Partners program, enabling Rotary members in polio-free countries to provide support to fellow members in polio-affected countries for polio eradication activities.
2000: A record 550 million children - almost 10% of the world's population - receive the oral polio vaccine. The Western Pacific region, spanning from Australia to China, is declared polio-free.
2003: The Rotary Foundation raises $119 million in a 12-month campaign. Rotary's total contribution to polio eradication exceeds $500 million. Six countries remain polio-endemic - Afghanistan, Egypt, India, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan.
2004: In Africa, synchronized National Immunization Days in 23 countries target 80 million children, the largest coordinated polio immunization effort on the continent.
2006: The number of polio-endemic countries drops to 4 - Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, Pakistan.
2009: Rotary's overall contribution to the eradication effort nears $800 million. In January, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation pledges $355 million and issues Rotary a challenge grant of $200 million. This announcement will result in a combined $555 million in support of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.
2011: Rotary welcomes celebrities and other major public figures into a new public awareness campaign and ambassador program called "This Close" to ending polio. Program ambassadors include Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Desmond Tutu, violinist Itzhak Perlman, co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Bill Gates, Grammy Award-winning singers Angelique Kidjo and Ziggy Marley, and environmentalist Dr. Jane Goodall. Rotary's funding for polio eradication exceeds $1 billion.
2014: India goes 3 full years without a new case caused by the wild poliovirus, and the World Health Organization certifies the South-East Asia region polio-free. Polio cases are down over 99% since 1988.
2016: The wild poliovirus has caused fewer new cases of the disease so far this year than this time last year, but recent setbacks in Nigeria - which was re-classified as polio-endemic in September 2016 - underscore the need for vigilance.
(Md. Nakibul is Assistant Professor, Department of Environmental Science and Engineering, Jatiya Kabi Kazi Nazrul Islam University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)