Rotary International has announced that Rotary Clubs worldwide have raised more than $200 million in new funding for polio eradication in response to a $355 million challenge grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The funds will be earmarked for polio immunization activities in affected countries where the vaccine-preventable disease continues to paralyze children. In recognition of the achievement, the Gates Foundation has committed an additional $50 million to the Rotary Foundation.
Since 1988, the incidence of polio has fallen by more than 99 percent, from some 350,000 infections annually to fewer than 650 cases reported in 2011. The wild poliovirus remains endemic (meaning its transmission has never been stopped) in only four countries — Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan. However, last week India marked a full calendar year without a case, paving the way for its imminent removal from the endemic list.
At the same time, other countries remain at risk for polio imported from the endemic countries. In Africa in 2011, for example, Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo experienced significant outbreaks of the virus, and a small cluster of polio cases occurred in China, which had been polio-free for a decade.
"We'll celebrate this milestone, but it doesn't mean that we'll stop raising money or spreading the word about polio eradication," said Rotary Foundation trustee John F. Germ. "We can't stop until our entire world is certified as polio free."