In the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, virtually every person knew someone in their family or circle of friends who had polio. In the early 1950s, there were annually over 55,000 cases of polio in the United States. Worldwide there were perhaps 500,000 cases of polio. Of that number 50,000 children a year would die from polio, and millions more would be crippled, paralyzed or suffer lifelong disabilities.
That was the backdrop of the PolioPlus story. In 1978, Rotary had a committee, appointed by R.I. President Clem Renouf, to design a new direction for Rotary. It was called the Health, Hunger and Humanity Committee. This was a small committee to design a program for Rotary International to undertake projects far greater than any club or district could do. Rotary had never undertaken a corporate or worldwide project – just club programs. Rotary received 16 project proposals from around the world. One proposal was from the Philippines. Dr. Benny Santos wrote that if Rotary could provide the vaccine, they would mobilize all the Rotarians in the entire Philippines and immunize all the children. So, that was it. Rotary approved the project, and some 6 million children were immunized against polio. It was a huge success.
A couple years passed, and another Rotary committee was created in 1982 by R.I. President Stan McCaffrey called the New Horizons Committee. This group had the job of “looking into the future of Rotary to see what tasks or new directions Rotary could take” in the future. A letter from Rotarian John Sever suggested that we might provide polio vaccine for all the children in the world. The committee thought that was a good idea, so it was one of the 35 suggestions to the R.I. Board of Directors. So, in 1982 the Board of Rotary International approved the idea of giving polio vaccine to all the children in the world.
At that time, you could find polio in 125 nations of the world and it was estimated that there were 350,000 cases of polio in the world every year. But we took on the project, one country at a time. Our first big immunization day was in Mexico, where we immunized 13 million children. Then we went to Central America and South America. One nation after another became “polio-free.”
Rotary, along with its partners, has reduced polio cases by 99 percent worldwide since its first project to vaccinate children in the Philippines in 1979. We are close to eradicating polio, but we need your help. Whether you have a few minutes or a few hours, here are some ways to make a global impact and protect children against polio forever.
Today there are 3 endemic counties left and 2.5 billion children have been immunized against polio. “The Gates Foundation will match two-to-one, up to US$35 million per year, every dollar Rotary commits to reduce the funding shortfall for polio eradication through 2018,” said Jeff Raikes, the foundation’s chief executive officer, in a prerecorded video address shown during the convention’s plenary session on June 25. “If fully realized, the value of this new partnership with Rotary is more than $500 million. In this way, your contributions to polio will work twice as hard.”
Going forward, the Gates Foundation will match two-to-one, up to US$35 million per year, every dollar Rotary commits to reduce the funding shortfall for polio eradication through 2018. If fully realized, the value of this new partnership with Rotary is more than $500 million. In this way, your contributions to polio will work twice as hard.
Rotary and the Gates Foundation are determined not to let polio make a comeback.
We will combine the strength of Rotary’s network with our resources, and together with the other partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), we will not just end a disease but change the face of public health forever.
In 2007, the Gates Foundation gave The Rotary Foundation a $100 million challenge grant for polio eradication, and in 2009, increased it to $355 million. Rotary agreed to raise $200 million in matching funds by 30 June 2012, but Rotarians in fact raised $228.7 million toward the challenge.
That’s the story of Rotary’s involvement in one of the greatest humanitarian program ever – PolioPlus. And I thank every one of you who have been a part of this program for so many years.