By far the largest project ever undertaken by Rotary is the eradication of Polio. We are close to eradicating a human disease for only the second time in history.
Poliomyelitis is a highly infectious disease that most commonly affects young children, under the age of 5. The virus is spread person-to-person, typically through contaminated water. It can attack the nervous system, and in some instances, lead to paralysis. Although there is no cure, there is a safe and effective vaccine – one which Rotary and our partners used to immunize over 2.5 billion children worldwide.
Through a global public-private partnership we have reduced the poliovirus caseload by 99.9% over the last 30 years, but there’s still plenty of work to do. Fewer than 22 children were paralysed by polio in 2017, the lowest number in history. This is a dramatic decrease from the estimated 350,000 cases per year in 125 countries that the world saw in 1985 - the year that Rotary International initiated a worldwide effort to eradicate this terrible disease.
In 1988, Rotary was joined in the effort by WHO, the U.S. Center for Disease Control, UNICEF (and more recently the Gates Foundation) to create the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI). Today the virus is limited to a few areas in just a few countries – Pakistan, Afghanistan and Mozambique.