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Polio PLUS is 30 years oldDr. Albert Sabin (left) and 1984-85 Rotary President Carlos Canseco at a press conference to announce the PolioPlus program.
During a speech to Rotary leaders in February 1985, then Rotary
President Dr. Carlos Canseco announced what he considered “the biggest
news in Rotary” — the commitment to help control polio worldwide.
that day, Rotary’s dedication to the global eradication of polio has
remained constant. 2015 marks the 30th anniversary of PolioPlus and
three decades of progress and challenges the program has faced.
the PolioPlus program started in 1985, Rotary began the fight against
polio much earlier. In 1979 Rotary members began a multiyear program
that immunized more than 6 million children in the Philippines against
eradication became a top priority to Rotary after urging from Canseco,
Dr. John Sever and Dr. Albert Sabin. Sever, a Rotary club leader, was
the head of the infectious diseases branch of the National Institute of
Neurological and Communicative Diseases and Stroke at the National
Institutes of Health. As the developer of the oral polio vaccine, Sabin
gave the program a globally respected figure.
With their medical
backgrounds, the three became crucial spokespeople for the program.
Sabin argued against the traditional country-by-country approach
advocated by the World Health Organization and others in the public
health community. He called it “charity,” saying that “what’s needed are
annual, well-organized — I repeat, the key is well-organized —
community campaigns for mass vaccination of all children under four or
five years of age.” Sever, Canseco, and others joined Sabin in
advocating for mass immunization.
Sever believed his fellow
Rotary members meet the challenge of polio eradication, calling them a
“big international army of volunteers.” He also helped Rotary secure a
special designation as a nongovernmental organization affiliated with
WHO in order to shape the PolioPlus program.
its early years, PolioPlus was dedicated to fundraising for
immunization efforts. In May 1988 Rotary announced that the campaign,
which aimed to raise $120 million, had raised nearly $220 million in
contributions and pledges. That same year, the World Health Assembly set
a goal of worldwide polio eradication and launched the Global Polio
Eradication Initiative (GPEI) with Rotary as one of its partners. At the
time, polio paralyzed more than 1,000 children worldwide every day and
125 countries were polio-endemic.
The GPEI partners, which also
included WHO, UNICEF, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, were able to boost world immunization levels from less than
50 percent in 1985 to over 80 percent in 1992. Just five years after the
GPEI was founded, the 500 millionth child was immunized against polio.
To further efforts, Rotary started the PolioPlus Partners program in
1995, to fund and support National Immunization Days in polio-endemic
2007 Rotary entered into a partnership with the Bill & Melinda
Gates Foundation, which issued Rotary a $100 million challenge grant to
raise funds for polio eradication. This partnership continued to grow,
and in 2013 the Gates Foundation offered to match Rotary’s contributions
for polio eradication 2-to-1 for five years (up to $35 million per
PolioPlus is truly international. Rotary has 1.2 million members in nearly every country working together to end polio for good.
his 1985 speech, Canseco reminded Rotary members and the world that
“Rotary cannot hope to rid the world of polio all on its own, but if we
step up our efforts and add them to those of the World Health
Organization’s Expanded Program on Immunization, UNICEF, and other
agencies over the next two decades, we can be truly effective in
accomplishing this mighty task.”
Since the launch of the GPEI,
the global incidence of polio cases has decreased by 99 percent. In
March 2014 India, once deemed the most difficult place to end polio, was
declared polio-free, making the entire Southeast Region polio-free.
of February 11, Africa had no new cases of wild poliovirus in six
months, though the continent must mark three full years without a new
case to be officially declared polio-free by WHO. Until polio is stopped
in the remaining endemic areas, all countries must maintain high levels
of surveillance and immunization rates to rapidly detect any
importation of the poliovirus and minimize its impact. Now that 99
percent of the world’s population lives in regions certified polio-free,
the goal of eradication is closer than ever. Be a part of history and help Rotary achieve a polio-free world.Request a Makeup Confirmation