24 October is World Polio Day, a global day to raise awareness and resources for the worldwide effort to eradicate polio. Communities, Rotarians, civil society, governments and partners around the world are organizing events to mark the occasion and draw attention to the opportunity to rid the world of an infectious disease once and for all, including at a special event at WHO’s European Regional Office with keynote speakers from partners and the Global Certification Commission for Polio Eradication.
On 21-22 October, Rotarians and WHO are meeting to examine how their joint collaboration on polio eradication can be applied to broader public health efforts, at an event called: World Polio Day and Beyond: a healthier future for mothers and children. Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Rotary International President for 2022-2023 Jennifer Jones will discuss the work the two organizations have done together for decades to eradicate polio and how they will continue to work together on a healthier future for mothers and children.
World Polio Day this year comes on the heels, of a global GPEI pledging moment, co-hosted by the German Government, held on 18 October at the World Health Summit in Berlin, Germany. At this event, the global community committed US$2.6 billion to the global effort to eradicate polio. It was an important first step, and clear sign of global solidarity, to ensuring all resources to achieve success are mobilized. We will all benefit equally from a polio-free world, so all of us have clear responsibility to help achieve it. Together, we end polio!
Addressing the pledging event in Berlin by video, Sadiya, a vaccinator from Nigeria, said: “Together, we end polio! I will do my best. I hope you will too.” World Polio Day is the ideal opportunity to follow Sadiya’s lead, and also do all of our best.
WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Rotary International President for 2022-2023 Jennifer Jones will discuss the work the two organizations have done together for decades to eradicate polio and how they will continue to work together on a healthier future for mothers and children. Experts in polio, vaccines, and maternal and child health will present the many opportunities for children who have been saved from polio and, along with their mothers, other vaccine-preventable diseases, to benefit from the preventive and life-saving services associated with it. This will allow mothers to have a positive pregnancy experience and young children to reach their full developmental potential.
Paralympic medalist and TV presenter Ade Adepitan, who co-hosts this year’s programme, says that the eradication of wild polio in Africa was personal for him. “Since I was born in Nigeria, this achievement is close to my heart,” says Adepitan, a polio survivor who contracted the disease as a child. “I’ve been waiting for this day since I was young.”
He notes that, just a decade ago, three-quarters of all of the world’s polio cases caused by the wild virus were contracted in Africa. Now, more than a billion Africans are safe from the disease. “But we’re not done,” Adepitan cautions. “We’re in pursuit of an even greater triumph — a world without polio. And I can’t wait.”
Rotary Foundation Trustee Geeta Manek, who co-hosts the programme with Adepitan, says that World Polio Day is an opportunity for Rotary members to be motivated to “continue this fight.”
She adds, “Rotarians around the world are working tirelessly to support the global effort to end polio.”
Now that the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared that its African region is free of the wild poliovirus, five of the WHO’s six regions, representing more than 90 percent of the world’s population, are now free of the disease. It is still endemic in Afghanistan and Pakistan, both in the WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean region.
“This effort required incredible coordination and cooperation between governments, UN agencies, civil organizations, health workers, and parents,” says Manek, a member of the Rotary Club of Muthaiga, Kenya. “I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished.”
A collective effort
Dr. Tunji Funsho, chair of Rotary’s Nigeria PolioPlus Committee and a member of the Rotary Club of Lekki Phase 1, Lagos State, Nigeria, tells online viewers that the milestone couldn’t have been reached without the efforts of Rotary members and leaders in Africa and around the world.
“Polio eradication is truly a collective effort … This accomplishment belongs to all of us,” says Funsho.
Rotary and its members have contributed nearly $890 million toward polio eradication efforts in the African region. The funds have allowed Rotary to award PolioPlus grants to fund polio surveillance, transportation, awareness campaigns, and National Immunization Days.
This year’s World Polio Day Online Global Update is streamed on Facebook in several languages and in a number of time zones around the world. The programme, which is sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, features Jeffrey Kluger, editor at large for TIME magazine; Mark Wright, TV news host and member of the Rotary Club of Seattle, Washington, USA; and Angélique Kidjo, a Grammy Award-winning singer who performs her song “M’Baamba.”
The challenges of 2020
It’s impossible to talk about 2020 without mentioning the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than a million people and devastated economies around the world.
In the programme, a panel of global health experts from Rotary’s partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) discuss how the infrastructure that Rotary and the GPEI have built to eradicate polio has helped communities tackle needs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic too.
“The infrastructure we built through polio in terms of how to engage communities, how to work with communities, how to rapidly teach communities to actually deliver health interventions, do disease surveillance, et cetera, has been an extremely important part of the effort to tackle so many other diseases,” says Dr. Bruce Aylward, Senior Adviser to the Director General at the WHO.
Panelists also include Dr. Christopher Elias, President of the Global Development Division of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Henrietta H. Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF; and Rebecca Martin, Director of the Center for Global Health at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Elias says that when there are global health emergencies, such as outbreaks of other contagious diseases, Rotarians always help. “They take whatever they’ve learned from doing successful polio campaigns that have reached all the children in the village, and they apply that to reaching them with yellow fever or measles vaccine.”
Theprogramme discusses several pandemic response tactics that rely on polio eradication infrastructure: Polio surveillance teams in Ethiopia are reporting COVID-19 cases, and emergency operation centers in Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan that are usually used to fight polio are now also being used as coordination centers for COVID-19 response.
The online programme also includes a video of brave volunteer health workers immunizing children in the restive state of Borno, Nigeria, and profiles a community mobilizer in Afghanistan who works tirelessly to ensure that children are protected from polio.
Kluger speaks with several people, including three Rotary members, about their childhood experiences as “Polio Pioneers” — they were among more than a million children who took part in a huge trial of Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine in the 1950s.
The future of the fight against polio
Rotary’s challenge now is to eradicate the wild poliovirus in the two countries where the disease has never been stopped: Afghanistan and Pakistan. Routine immunizations must also be strengthened in Africa to keep the virus from returning there. The polio partnership is working to rid the world of all strains of poliovirus, so that no child is affected by polio paralysis ever again.
To eradicate polio, multiple high-quality immunization campaigns must be carried out each year in polio-affected and high-risk countries. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is necessary to maintain populations’ immunity against polio while also protecting health workers from the coronavirus and making sure they don’t transmit it.
Rotary has contributed more than $2.1 billion to polio eradication since it launched the PolioPlus programme in 1985, and it’s committed to raising $50 million each year for polio eradication activities. Because of a 2-to-1 matching agreement with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, each year, $150 million goes toward fulfilling Rotary’s promise to the children of the world: No child will ever again suffer the devastating effects of polio.
Captain Nestor and Nurse Jeff support each other during polio vaccination campaigns in Barangay Bianoan, in Aurora in the Philippines. A barangay is the smallest administrative district in the Philippines, often home to a tightknit community. By combining their skills to raise vaccine confidence, publicize the campaign and share vehicles to reach every child with immunizations, Nestor and Jeff are playing a vital role to close the polio outbreak.
Meet more of the #HeroesEndingPolio in the Philippines, from nurses and laboratory workers, to Rotarians and polio campaign monitors.
Dedicated to all polio survivors!
You were young?
or even an adult;
and torn from life
with a limbless feeling.
you were lying
in a hospital bed
without even a pillow,
from the outside world.
of lonely days, weeks,
and frightening nights;
left with your own day-dreams
an unconscious presence
with no vision of the
Despite the ups and downs
of rehabilitation efforts,
a different world
on the day you left.
In this other world,
even after recovery,
an everlasting trace remained,
with which you were forced
to live with and accept.
a remnant influential trace;
became a life’s companion.
invisible to the outside;
you had become
an idiosyncratic person
quite often miss-understood.
to self-decision making,
with countless setbacks;
you had to make
it on your own.
required more strength
that you just didn’t have any more.
Nobody else saw it that way,
other than yourself.
on the verge of hopelessness,
thoughts of an end
to your misery
may have come to mind.
You have lived your life
on the threshold
to your reserves.
possibly decades later,
you face the consequences,
the big bill!
Sadly, you pay it
with the loss of life’s quality,
living with the discrepancy
between wanting to
and not being able to.
I bow in humility
to your life’s achievements,
as I too have walked
along this path.
Modified lyrical translation: German to English by Tom House
25 October 2019, Geneva, Switzerland
My fellow Polio Eradicators,
Yesterday was World Polio Day, a global awareness-raising day on the need to complete the job of polio eradication, and here at the World Health Organization (WHO) headquarters, it was my great honour to make a truly phenomenal announcement: that wild poliovirus type 3 has been certified as globally eradicated, by the Global Commission for the Certification of Poliomyelitis Eradication.
This is the second of the three types of wild poliovirus to have been globally eradicated. Only wild poliovirus type 1 remains in circulation, in just two countries worldwide. Africa has not detected any wild poliovirus of any type since September 2016, and the entire African Region is eligible to be certified free of all wild poliovirus next June.
Global wild poliovirus type 3 eradication is a tremendous achievement and is an important milestone on the road to eradicate all poliovirus strains. This shows us that the tactics are working, as individual family lines of the virus are being successfully knocked out.
But the job is not finished until ALL strains of poliovirus are fully eradicated – and stay eradicated. We must achieve final success or face the consequences of renewed global resurgence of this ancient scourge. We must eradicate the remaining strains of WPV1 and also address the increasing circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus outbreaks, in particular in Africa.
And here too we are making strong inroads. New strategies are helping us reach the most vulnerable populations, particularly in the remaining reservoir areas. New tools, including a brand-new vaccine, are being developed, to ensure the long-term risk of vaccine-derived polioviruses can be comprehensively addressed.
But these tools and tactics only work if they are fully funded, and fully implemented.
And so today, on the day after this tremendous announcement, I really have two messages for you.
The first is a simple and whole-hearted ‘thank you’. Thank you for making a world free of wild poliovirus type 3 a reality. Thank you to all countries, to all donors, to all stakeholders, partners, advisory and oversight groups, policy makers, Rotarians. Most importantly, thank you to all communities, to all parents. To all frontline health workers. They are the real heroes of this achievement.
And my second message is: please do not stop now. The Reaching the Last Mile Forum, hosted in the United Arab Emirates this November by His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, will provide an opportunity for many of our stakeholders to recommit their efforts to a polio-free world. I urge all of you to stay committed and redouble determination in this final push to the finish line.
Together, the partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) – WHO, Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance – stand ready to support this global effort. But it will take collective and global collaboration, from all public- and private-sector stakeholders, to ensure every last child is reached and protected from all polioviruses.
Together, let us achieve history: let us ensure that no child anywhere will ever again by paralysed by any poliovirus.
24 October 2019 – In a historic announcement on World Polio Day, an independent commission of experts concluded that wild poliovirus type 3 (WPV3) has been eradicated worldwide. Following the eradication of smallpox and wild poliovirus type 2, this news represents a historic achievement for humanity.
“The achievement of polio eradication will be a milestone for global health. Commitment from partners and countries, coupled with innovation, means of the three wild polio serotypes, only type one remains,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization and Chair of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) Polio Oversight Board “We remain fully committed to ensuring that all necessary resources are made available to eradicate all poliovirus strains. We urge all our other stakeholders and partners to also stay the course until final success is achieved,” he added.
There are three individual and immunologically-distinct wild poliovirus strains: wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1), wild poliovirus type 2 (WPV2) and wild poliovirus type 3 (WPV3). Symptomatically, all three strains are identical, in that they cause irreversible paralysis or even death. But there are genetic and virologic differences which make these three strains three separate viruses that must each be eradicated individually.
WPV3 is the second strain of the poliovirus to be wiped out, following the certification of the eradication of WPV2 in 2015. The last case of WPV3 was detected in northern Nigeria in 2012. Since then, the strength and reach of the eradication programme’s global surveillance system has been critical to verify that this strain is truly gone. Investments in skilled workers, innovative tools and a global network of laboratories have helped determine that no WPV3 exists anywhere in the world, apart from specimens locked in secure containment.
At a celebration event at the headquarters of the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, Professor David Salisbury, chair of the independent Global Commission for the Certification of Poliomyelitis Eradication, presented the official certificate of WPV3 eradication to Dr Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Wild poliovirus type 3 is globally eradicated,” said Professor Salisbury. “This this is a significant achievement that should reinvigorate the eradication process and provides motivation for the final step – the eradication of wild poliovirus type 1. This virus remains in circulation in just two countries: Afghanistan and Pakistan. We cannot stop our efforts now: we must eradicate all remaining strains of all polioviruses. We do have good news from Africa: no wild poliovirus type 1 has been detected anywhere on the continent since 2016 in the face of ever improving surveillance. Although the region is affected by circulating vaccine-derived polioviruses, which must urgently be stopped, it does appear as if the continent is free of all wild polioviruses, a tremendous achievement.”
Eradicating WPV3 proves that a polio-free world is achievable. Key to success will be the ongoing commitment of the international development community. To this effect, as part of a Global Health Week in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, in November 2019, the Reaching the Last Mile Forum will focus international attention on eradication of the world’s deadliest diseases and provide an opportunity for world leaders and civil society organizations, notably Rotary International which is at the origin of this effort, to contribute to the last mile of polio eradication. The GPEI 2019–2023 Investment Case lays out the impact of investing in polio eradication. The polio eradication efforts have saved the world more than US$27 billion in health costs since 1988. A sustained polio-free world will generate further US$14 billion in savings by 2050, compared to the cost countries would incur for controlling the virus indefinitely.
Front-line health workers and volunteers represent the backbone of the global polio eradication effort. As they work tirelessly to reach and vaccinate every last child against polio – often in remote, hard-to-reach or even dangerous areas – they are not only protecting children from the poliovirus, but also paving the way for other health programmes to reach the world’s most vulnerable children.
The Every Last Child project is a collection of over 30 stories and profiles from India, Pakistan and Afghanistan about the collective efforts of front-line health workers, governments and global health partners to protect children from the poliovirus in some of the world’s most challenging environments. These multimedia pieces illustrate the complexity and scale of polio eradication efforts in each of these key countries through in-depth narratives, compelling profiles and interactive visuals.
To end polio, the global polio programme must reach every last child and take bold steps to take the world across the finish line once and for all. Visit the Every Last Child project page to learn more about the history of these remarkable efforts, as well as stories of heroic front-line workers.
Were you vaccinated? 24 October 2018 marks this year’s World Polio Day, a global day to raise awareness and resources in support of the polio eradication effort. Rotarians and other partners are reaching out to leaders and communities, to engage them in the effort, through events, fundraisers and social media campaigns.
This high-level commitment to polio eradication and to mobilizing support for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) comes at a crucial time in polio programme’s history. At the time of the GPEI’s founding in 1988, polio was endemic in more than 125 countries and paralysed 350 000 children every year. Since then, the GPEI has overseen a 99% reduction in annual cases of polio – down to a historic low of just 22 cases in 2017. Today, only three countries remain endemic to wild poliovirus (WPV) transmission, and the world is closer than ever to being polio-free. The poliovirus has taken refuge in some of the most challenging and dynamic environments in the world.
Bold steps to end polio are needed to adapt to rapidly changing security and access dynamics and to confront challenges in field operations, in conducting surveillance, and in ensuring that good quality data is generated.
For World Polio Day on 24 October, the world celebrated the unsung heroes of the eradication effort. How important have volunteers been in eradicating polio so far?
Volunteers have been and continue to be the backbone of the eradication effort. Local Rotarians are raising critically-needed funds, and members of the community conduct the actual administration of the vaccines on the ground and report cases of paralysis. Without this vast network of volunteers – approximately 20 million strong worldwide – polio cannot be eradicated. They are the true unsung heroes of this effort.
What are the main hurdles to eradicating polio? Are there difficulties getting vaccines to remote communities and areas in conflict?
Those are precisely the main hurdles: reaching children who remain unreached by health systems, because of difficult terrain, conflict, security compromised access, urban sprawl, or large-scale population movements. These are all reasons some children are not vaccinated. The poliovirus is very effective at finding vulnerable children, so we have to be better than the poliovirus at finding that last unvaccinated child. And that is what we are doing with local authorities and partners. Identifying – area by area – the real reasons why children in that area are missed, and then putting in place operational action plans, at the community level, to overcome those reasons. We’re making strong progress: never before has polio been as geographically restricted as it is today. But we are not there yet, and we need to pursue our efforts.
How do you address the challenges of reliable data and identify areas with the lowest immunization coverage?
This is a key issue, particularly at this late stage of the effort, where we really have to focus on reaching the last one or two percent of children who we have so far missed. It is not good enough to achieve 95% coverage nationally, if sub-nationally we are still missing 5%-10% of children somewhere. So we need to be extremely rigorous in the monitoring of our activities, in particular when we assess population immunity levels. We have introduced a number of innovative approaches to address this challenge, such as Lot Quality Assessment sampling, to identify areas which fail to achieve campaign coverage targets; third party monitoring, to get an external view on data quality; and seroprevalence surveys, which show actual immunity levels of children in key areas or high-risk population groups. These tools provide the clearest and most reliable picture of immunity levels.
How can other disease programmes benefit from polio eradication?
Polio eradication has always been about more than polio. Rotary International calls this effort ‘PolioPlus’, with the ‘plus’ standing for more than polio. Polio-funded staff on the ground have been busy helping address other public health emergencies, from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the recent drought in the Horn of Africa, to the devastating earthquake in Nepal a few years ago.
Polio-funded staff have also supported Gavi’s immunization efforts, including assisting countries in their implementation of Gavi-funded vaccine and health system strengthening activities. As a concrete example, the proportion of children who have been fully immunized against all vaccine-preventable diseases in some of the most marginalised areas of India increased from less than 20% ten years ago, to more than 80% today.
These broader benefits of the polio eradication effort, however, require that countries and the international
community make sure that the momentum is maintained when polio is eradicated. Indeed, unless this is well planned, the loss of funding coming through the Global Polio Eradication Initiative could negatively impact immunization programmes and other health interventions which have benefited from the large network of staff deployed to eradicate polio. Discussions with partners and countries are underway to map out this process for the post-polio world.
Polio eradication has indeed shown that all children – no matter where they live – can be reached with health interventions. The premise of this programme has been that every child has a right to be protected from lifelong polio paralysis, whether they live in Switzerland, or whether they live in conflict-affected areas of Somalia or areas with limited healthcare infrastructure of Afghanistan. And the lessons and experiences can be – and are being – applied to other disease control programmes.
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.
Some children live in places that are harder to reach with polio vaccines than others. In every vulnerable country, the World Health Organization helps make sure that every child receives polio vaccines; even those who are on the move, living in conflict zones or in remote communities.
The search for the poliovirus is triggered when any child is found with acute flaccid paralysis. From the most remote communities to the laboratory, the World Health Organization makes sure that the components of the surveillance system work together so that if the poliovirus is circulating anywhere in the world it will be found – and stopped.