Rotary’s World Polio Day event praises unsung heroes

Rotary and the Gates Foundation host fifth annual World Polio Day to highlight progress in the fight to eradicate the disease

© Rotary

After another year of dwindling polio cases, Rotary leaders, top health experts, and celebrities said on World Polio Day 2017 that the paralysing disease has never been closer to being eradicated globally.

A special livestreamed presentation — End Polio Now: Countdown to History — featured the people who work tirelessly to end the disease and reviewed the progress that the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) has made.

Co-hosted by Rotary and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the 45-minute programme took place before a live audience at the Gates Foundation headquarters in Seattle, USA, and was streamed online to viewers worldwide. Mark Wright, news host for the local NBC television station and president of the Rotary Club of Seattle, and CNN news host Fredricka Whitfield led the event.

Wright gave the audience the latest information about polio. He said that the total number of cases caused by the wild poliovirus so far this year is 12, with seven cases in Afghanistan, five in Pakistan, and none in Nigeria. This is a 70 percent reduction from 2016’s total, and 2016 had the lowest number of polio cases in history.

“The scale of the effort is staggering,” Wright said. “Every year, 2.2 billion doses of vaccine are delivered to 430 million children, through a sophisticated vaccine supply and logistics network.”

Sue Desmond-Hellman, the Gates Foundation’s chief executive officer, began the event by praising Rotary members and front-line health workers for their dedication to ending the disease.

Hellman said, “Nothing would be possible without the efforts of thousands of volunteers across the world who, sometimes in perilous situations, deliver and administer polio vaccinations.”

She added, “Those unsung heroes are in the company of Rotarians. Everywhere around the world, Rotarians show us, with their quiet but inspiring determination, how you can make it possible for 16 million children to be alive and walking.”

At the Rotary Convention earlier this year, the Gates Foundation and Rotary renewed their long-standing support for ending polio: Rotary committed to raising $50 million per year over the next three years, with every dollar to be matched by two dollars from the Gates Foundation. The agreement will yield up to US$ 450 million for eradication efforts.

Rotary has spent more than US$ 1.7 billion on polio eradication since 1985. Earlier this month, Rotary gave US$ 49.5 million in grants to support immunizations and surveillance activities led by the GPEI.

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