Vol. 14, No. 21, November 26, 2001

US Rotary Club Members Join In Massive Effort to Immunize 80 Million Children Against Polio in West Africa
Part of Global Effort to Eradicate Polio Worldwide by 2005

(USA; ACCRA, Ghana - 30 October 2001) A group of 30 US Rotary Club members from the San Francisco Bay area, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Portland, Maine, today returned from the West African country of Ghana where they assisted Ghanaian Rotary club members in their efforts to vaccinate every child under the age of five against polio.

Regardless of the current hesitance among Americans to travel, dedicated US Rotary volunteers are still going forward with this humanitarian journey. As the official representative for Rotary International and The Rotary Foundation, Rotary leader Dan Mooers of Portland, Maine, said, "We are proud to be part of this historic effort to rid the world of a crippling disease that has impacted millions of lives throughout the centuries. Despite the recent tragedies and pending war, US Rotary club members are still very concerned with the well-being of children overseas and remain highly committed to eradicating polio - Rotary's top priority."

The group of Rotary volunteers administered the drops of oral polio vaccine to children, assisted parents in getting their children vaccinated, transported health workers and recruited fellow volunteers during Ghana's National Immunization Day (NID).

Much progress has been made toward eradicating polio in Ghana. So far this year, zero cases of polio have been reported, compared to 107 cases last year. Much of this success is due in part to Ghanaian and US Rotary club members who have volunteered during NIDs for almost a decade. Since launching its PolioPlus program in 1985, Rotary International has contributed over US $1.8 million to polio eradication efforts in Ghana.

In addition to Ghana, 15 countries in West Africa held their NIDs within the same week as Ghana to prevent cross-border transmission of the poliovirus. An expected total of 80 million children were vaccinated against polio during this time. The countries taking part in the regional efforts are: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Cote d'Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Guinea Conakry, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.

In recognizing these extraordinary volunteer efforts, Rick King, president of Rotary International said, "This volunteer spirit is what enables Rotary to move toward its goal of polio eradication. Thanks to the dedication of Rotary volunteers worldwide, the next century will begin with one less threat against the children of the world."

Polio eradication is extremely close to completion. In 2000, there were no more than 2,882 cases of polio reported worldwide, a 99 percent decrease from the 350,000 cases estimated in 1988. The poliovirus now circulates in no more than 20 countries, down from 30 in 1999 and 125 in 1988. These are mainly in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

In spite of this success, the remaining one percent poses the greatest challenge. Closing a US$400 million funding gap, accessing all children in areas of civil unrest and maintaining political commitment in the face of a disappearing disease are major obstacles that must still be overcome.

To help meet this funding challenge, The Rotary Foundation of Rotary International and the United Nations Foundation are collaborating to secure funds from private sector corporations, philanthropists and foundations.

Rotary International is one of the world's first and largest volunteer service organizations with 1.2 million members in 163 countries. In 1985, Rotary International acted as the catalyst for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative by setting the goal to immunize all the world's children against the disease by Rotary's 100th anniversary in 2005. As the largest private-sector contributor and volunteer arm of the Initiative, Rotary's PolioPlus program has contributed US$438 million to the protection of more than 2 billion children in 122 countries. These funds are providing much needed polio vaccine, operational support, medical personnel, laboratory equipment and educational materials for health workers and parents. By 2005, Rotary's financial commitment will reach a half billion US dollars.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is spearheaded by the World Health Organization, Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).