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April 30, 2009

And to the victorů

Michael Kurtianyk

As a member of the Fredericktowne Rotary, I am proud of the work our international organization has done since its inception in 1905. Its mission is to provide service to others, to promote high ethical standards, and to advance world understanding, goodwill, and peace through its fellowship of business, professional, and community leaders.


Our motto is “Service Above Self,” and nowhere is this more apparent than in Rotary International’s fight against polio, through its PolioPlus campaign.


What is polio? A crippling and potentially fatal infectious disease, polio (poliomyelitis) still strikes children, mainly under the age of five in countries in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. It can cause paralysis and sometimes death. Because there is no cure, the best protection is prevention. It can cause paralysis within hours, a consequence that is almost always irreversible. In the most severe cases, polio attacks the motor neurons of the brain stem, causing breathing difficulty or even death.


Historically, polio has been the world’s greatest cause of disability.


I know that many are thinking: “I thought that we were done with polio.” Or: “Since polio doesn’t happen in America, I don’t have to worry about it.” However, these are false perceptions – polio still happens in this the 21st Century, and though it doesn’t happen here, we still need to help our world community.


According to the March 2009 issue of End Polio Now, as of January of this year, there were 1,633 worldwide cases of polio. This includes 31 in Afghanistan, 552 in India, 790 in Nigeria, and 118 in Pakistan.


When Rotary started the PolioPlus program, more than 350,000 children worldwide were infected annually by polio. In 2008, fewer than 2,000 children were infected, a reduction of more than 99 percent. Eradication clearly is within reach; but polio remains a threat until the day the world is certified polio-free.


According to, high infant-immunization coverage with four doses of oral polio vaccine (OPV) in the first year of life is critical. Routine immunization is essential because it’s the primary way that polio-free countries protect their children from the threat of imported polio. For decades, Rotary’s PolioPlus program has been one of the driving forces during National Immunization Days, or NIDs.


Rotarians are involved in myriad ways before, during, and after an NID, by providing funds for millions of drops of vaccine, promoting upcoming campaigns in the community, distributing vaccine to local health centers, serving as monitors, working with local officials to reach every child, and participating in surveillance efforts.


In this case, surveillance means that Rotarians play an important role in working with health workers, pediatricians, and others to find, report, and investigate cases of acute flaccid paralysis in a timely manner (ideally within 48 hours of onset). PolioPlus sometimes helps fund containers that preserve the integrity of stool samples during transport to laboratories. The program has also played a leading role in providing equipment for the global poliovirus laboratory.


What has greatly helped has been the efforts of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and their partnership with Rotary. Their website states the foundation’s mission statement: “Our belief that every life has equal value is at the core of our work at the foundation.”


And, so, it is with this marriage of two philosophies that recently the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation provided Rotary International a grant totaling $355.12 million to support global polio eradication activities through the Rotary Foundation's PolioPlus program. The regions served will be Nigeria, Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan. A web site has been established for all to see:


Rotary International is now in the midst of a $200 million dollar campaign to go with the Gates Foundation’s generous gift. The resulting $555 million will directly support immunization campaigns in developing countries, where polio continues to infect children, robbing them of their futures and compounding the hardships faced by their families. As the website states: “As long as polio threatens even one child anywhere in the world, children everywhere remain at risk.”


Rotarians everywhere are thankful for the generosity of the grant from the Gates Foundation. We see the eradication of polio in the world as a noble and achievable goal.


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