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The Philippine Polio-Plus Project



Rotary International has four main avenues of service, club service, vocational service, community service and international service.


World Community Service has been made a dominant emphasis in international service by the Board of Directors of Rotary International. It offers to every Rotarian a practical opportunity to fulfill that part of the object of Rotary that he is committed to. "To encourage and foster international understanding, good will and peace through a world of fellowship of business and professional men united in the ideal of service."


In 1978 Rotary initiated a special fund called, "75th Anniversary Fund", for the development of the Rotary International HEALTH, HUNGER AND HUMANITY (3H) Program. One of the first Health Hunger and Humanity Grants led to a program that has made a profound impact, and is being felt all over the world. In 1978, Rotary International and the Government of the Philippines joined forces on a five-year project to immunize the children of the Philippines against polio. Out of this project grew the extraordinary program known as Polio Plus.


However, by 1980, it was estimated that only 20% of the world’s children were being immunized against the dreaded polio disease. The problem was two-fold, the cost, and the difficulty of delivery. The great majority of developing countries could neither afford the cost of vaccine necessary to immunize their children, nor did they have a reliable way to deliver the vaccine to those who were most in need of it. In 1981 66,052 cases of Polio were reported in the world.





    "Poliomyelitis is an acute infectious disease, especially of children, but not only of children, caused by a virus inflammation of the gray matter of the spinal cord; it is accompanied by paralysis of various muscle groups that sometimes atrophy (waste away) often resulting with permanent deformation."


    Dr. Jonas Salk developed a form of Polio Vaccine in 1953. It was a vaccine that creates antibodies that ward off the Polio Virus. While this greatly reduced the number of paralytic cases, it did not provide long-term immunity. This was an injected polio vaccine (IPV).


    In 1954, Dr. Albert Sabin developed an oral "live" vaccine; that provided long-term immunity, and broke the chain of transmission of the virus. This is an oral vaccine (OPV), and easy to administer. As a result, in the late 50's, and early 60's, community vaccinations of millions of pre school children, and school children took place in many of the World's developed countries.




Clem Renouf, Rotary International President in 1978-79 dreamed of eradicating Polio from the Philippines. He worked through the Philippine Health Organization, and with a Rotary Foundation Grant in 1978 the Philippine Government joined Rotary International in a 5-year project to eradicate Polio from the Philippines by immunizing all of the children. The strategy for the Philippine Project was developed, and the necessary resources were marshaled to implement the plan.


In 1979, at the Rotary Convention in Rome, Italy, when Jim Bomar was the incoming President of RI, PDG Jun Tambunting met with President Sergio Mulish of the Rotary Club of Rome. During that meeting, President Sergio announced that the ROTARIANS OF ROME was ready to help the children of the Philippines and they had 500,000 polio vaccines ready to be airlifted to the Philippines. 


In a few weeks, the vaccines arrived in Manila. PDG Jun Tambunting and PDG Benny Santos were on hand to pick up the polio vaccine at the airport together with the senior officers of the Department of Health. Six months later another 500,000 vaccines were delivered, for a total of one million from Rome.


In1980-1985, after Rotary International (RI) approved the 3H program, to immunize six million children in the Philippines PDG Jun Tambunting was appointed as the 3H Chairman (Health). With the help of the Department of Health, which had the lists of children below 5 years in all barangays (villages) in the country. The Philippines was the first country to have its children immunized from Polio and other dreaded diseases.


In 1984, Rotary International President Carlos Canseco who was considered to be the “Father of Polio Immunization” launched the polio plus project in the Kansas City convention.


Awarded at the convention was Doctor Albert Sabin, who developed the oral Polio “live” vaccine. He told Jun that “there is no organization that can eradicate Polio, but Rotary”. And Rotary’s goal was to eliminate polio by the 100th Year Anniversary of Rotary in 2005.


"With the Philippine project, a strategy was developed to attack polio and the necessary resources were marshaled to implement the plan. Thanks to the efforts of Filipino Rotarians, the immunization effort was a tremendous success."


Rotary International learned a great deal from the Philippine experiment. It wasn't long before Rotary International Board of Directors decided to undertake the extra ordinary task of providing enough vaccine to immunize virtually all of the developing world's children against polio forever.




      News of the Polio Plus Campaign began to spread around the world. It captured the imagination of Rotarians, and Governments, but money was needed to fund the campaign. The Rotary International Foundation set a monetary goal in 1986 to raise $125 million dollars for Polio Plus.


      From 1986 to 1988 Rotary Clubs all over the world were called on to help in the drive to raise funds, and every Rotary Club rallied to the cause. The Foundation received several gifts of $100,000, and then a one million dollar gift started funds really rolling in. Rotary Clubs put on dinners, raffled off cars, had golf tournaments, and even took cruises to raise money. One of the local clubs even tried a "nearly new" men's suit sale. They raised funds every way possible. Rotary Club pledges also helped to raise the goal.


      Two years later Rotary International would celebrate obtaining that goal and surpassing it at their 1988 International Rotary Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. President Chuck Keller announced to the world that Rotary International raised a quarter of a billion dollars to eradicated Polio from the map of the world. PDG Jun Tambunting announced in the convention that the Philippines’ share was $550,000.


“The Polio Plus Program of Rotary International officially was launched in Angeles City, Philippines in October 1987.  PDG Jun Tambunting designated Angeles City as the Pilot City  appointing  IPDG Ruben G. Henson, M.D. coordinator of the  City wide immunization.


 President Chuck Keller witnessed the Angeles City experiment together with the late PRID Benny Santos of the Philippines and PDG Leslie T. Whitcroft, and his wife Shirley (who was a polio victim) of the Rotary Club of Ryde, New South Wales, Australia. At that time, PDG Les was the Chairman of the Australia-Papua New Guinea Polio Plus Committee.


    A few days before the visit of President Chuck Keller, the Rotarians held a 2-day workshop and some schools were selected to benefit from the said project. Four of them were the Sto. Rosario Elementary School, Angeles Elementary School and Pandan Elementary School for Angeles City and Mabalacat Elementary School for the town of Mabalacat.


The officers and members of the Rotary Club of Angeles and Mabalacat included PP Melo Narciso, PP Fred Ayson, PP Tony Angeles, PP Bud Valdes, PP Dante Timbol, Pres. Freddie Ayson, PP Bruce Mctavish, Phillip Merit, Rtns. Joe Quitalig and Loy Lao were all in attendance. These Rotarians and others were present at the workshop and were ready to assist and work hand-in-hand in the project.


The school selected for the first Polio Plus Immunization was the Santo Rosario Elementary School in Angeles City. Thousands of children were given the precious Polio vaccine dropped by President Chuck Keller and aided by the late PRID Benny Santos. Former Secretary General Herbert Pigman was also on hand.


   It will be 25 years next year since Polio Plus started in Angeles City in 1987 and we would like to remember that significant moment when President Jim Bomar in 1979 and President Chuck Keller gave the first drops of precious Polio Vaccine to a Filipino child to start the global quest of Rotary International to help eradicate Polio from the face of the earth. Due to the success in Angeles City this became the model in the world for the National Immunization day (NID), which was followed by many countries afterwards. We, Filipino and Angeles City Rotarians showed the world that it could be done.


  • This article was submitted by Rotarian Ruben “Ben” Henson.
  • He was Governor (1985-86), District 3790, Philippines
  • Ben was a Member of the 5 - member Polio Plus Task Force from 1986 - 1989 headed by Herbert Pigman
  • He helped in the National Immunization Day campaigns in India, Bangladesh, Philippines, Thailand, Papua, New Guinea and Indonesia.

    The opinions expressed by the authors of each Make-up Article do not necessarily represent the opinions of Rotary eClub One and its editorial staff.

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