Rotary members worldwide unite to fight polio
22-10-2005 (Rotary International)
(EVANSTON, IL, USA - October 2005) - This fall, hundreds of Rotary club members from the United States, Canada, France, The Netherlands, Australia, Singapore and Malaysia will join thousands of their fellow Rotarians and millions of other volunteers and health workers in India, Indonesia and African nations to help immunize children against polio.

Through Rotary International, the fight against polio has been largely driven by volunteers. Never before have individual volunteers and the influence of the private sector played such a core role in a global public health effort. "Rotary and its 1.2 million volunteers worldwide is an integral part of the global polio eradication effort. It is this volunteer network that is at the heart of Rotary's role in the global effort to eradicate polio. Rotarians are making a difference - whether that be in collectively committing well over US$600 million to the effort, or participating in immunization campaigns in the remaining polio-affected countries." Dr LEE, Jong-wook, Director-General, World Health Organization (WHO).

Great progress is being made. India, which once held more than 70% of the global burden of polio cases, is very close to driving out polio with only 33 cases so far this year. Epidemiologists predict that polio can be stopped in all countries within six months, with the exception of Nigeria.

Rotary members are doing everything in their power to ensure success during this final phase. We will work from dusk to dawn to make sure that every child under the age of five is immunized, said Bruce Howard, a Rotary member from California, leading a group of 27 to Nigeria for the immunization campaign in November. The goal of ending polio and its devastating consequences is within reach . We must c ontinue to build on improvements achieved in 2005, and deliver the polio vaccine to each and every child, including the most vulnerable and hardest-to-reach children.

The epidemic in West and Central Africa, which began in 2003 due to a yearlong suspension of polio immunization activities in Nigeria, is making a steady decline. To ensure success, synchronized polio immunization campaigns will begin on 11 November, which will target 80 million children in 22 west and central African nations. These multinational campaigns - supported by governments, Rotary International, the World Health Organization, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and UNICEF - will shore up the continued progress made this year to stem the spread of the poliovirus in the region.

Rotary volunteers will join tens of thousands of traditional and religious leaders, teachers, parents and a huge force of other volunteers and health workers to reach every one of the 80 million children during these immunization campaigns. The urgency of this effort is clear, said Dominique Dhenne, a Rotary member from Tours, France who is leading a group of Rotary members to the West African country of Togo. With so much as stake, we must all do what we can to make these campaigns a success.

Carl-Wilhelm Stenhammar, President of Rotary International, noted that volunteer efforts are an integral part of the global campaign against polio. The dedication shown by Rotary members is not only inspiring, but it is also a fundamental component of our fight against polio, said Stenhammar. Thanks to the dedication of volunteers worldwide, soon there will be one less threat against the children of the world.

Overall, great progress has been made in the effort to end polio worldwide. In the two decades since Rotary and its global partners launched the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, cases worldwide have been slashed by 99 percent with 1,255 reported all year in 2004. Today, half of the world's population now lives in certified polio-free areas. The Americas were declared free from polio in 1994, as well as the Western Pacific region in 2000, and Europe in 2002.

Rotary's commitment to end polio represents the largest private-sector support of a global health initiative ever. In 1985, Rotary members worldwide vowed to immunize all the world's children against polio. Since then, Rotary has raised more than US$600 million worldwide, and has contributed countless volunteer hours to help immunize more than 2 billion children in 122 countries.

A highly infectious disease, polio causes paralysis and is sometimes fatal. As there is no cure, the best protection is prevention. For as little as US60 cents worth of vaccine, a child can be protected against this crippling disease for life. After an international investment of US$4 billion over 17 years, and the successful engagement of over 200 countries and 20 million volunteers, polio could be the first disease of the 21st century to be eradicated.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is spearheaded by the World Health Organization, Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

Rotary is an organization of business and professional leaders united worldwide to provide humanitarian service and help to build goodwill and peace in the world. It is comprised of 1.2 million members working in over 32,000 clubs in 170 countries. Rotary members initiate community projects that address many of today's most critical issues such as violence, AIDS, hunger, the environment and health care.

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