October 24th is World Polio Day. The world is 99% free of the dreaded disease that has crippled and/or killed children for centuries. Polio only affects children and has been eradicated from North America for decades. However, it continues to plague parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
Rotary began a crusade to eradicate Polio from the world in 1985 through a program called Polio Plus. 

The goal was to immunize 500 million children around the world with the Polio vaccine. It was expected to cost about $100 million US. By 1987 Rotary members had raised a surprising $247 million.
Rotary leaders then went to the World Health Organization and said that Rotary would like their help in eradicating Polio. It was not well accepted by all the WHO leaders who represented some of the most knowledgeable health authorities in the world. Rotary was “just a service club.”  Finally, when Rotary told them that they had over a million volunteers and $247 million in their pockets, they said, “Come on in.”  So Rotary became full partners of the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and the US Centers for Disease Control.

At that time, in 1988, you could find polio in 125 nations of the world and it was estimated that there were 350,000 cases of polio in the world every year.  

But Rotary took on the project – one country at a time.  The first big immunization day was in Mexico, where they immunized 13 million children.  Then Rotarians went to Central America and South America.  One nation after another became “polio free.”

To make a long story short, since 1988, more than 2.5 billion children have been immunized against polio thanks to the unprecedented cooperation of more than 200 countries and 20 million volunteers, backed by an international investment of over US$ 8 billion. This was a great deal larger than the original estimates. By 2006, only four countries remained that had never stopped polio transmission, and annual case numbers had decreased by over 99%.

In 2008, the World Health Assembly called for a new strategy to eradicate polio from the remaining affected countries and finally rid the world of polio. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative launched an intensified eradication effort involving the wide-scale use of new tools and tactics in each country, with renewed commitment by their leaders and donors.

The eradication effort has now reached the critical stage as every last child on the planet needs to be immunized with the Polio vaccine. Children are born every day in every corner of the earth. They are born in mud huts, tents, and in the streets of developing nations. So the last 1% of the world’s children are the most difficult to locate and vaccinate. The speed with which the vaccine needs to be administered is ever increasing. As long as one child in an endemic country is born and is not vaccinated, the virus will continue to attack and flourish.

This last ditch effort to reach every last child has escalated into a fever pitch with governments and Non-Government Organizations (NGO’s) jumping in with money and resources to fund this last hurdle. 

Public awareness campaigns and appeals for funding are at the most critical stage. Rotary has developed an awareness program called “This Close” because we are “this close” to eradicating this vile, crippling, children’s disease forever.
 
So what can the general public do to help?  After several months of negotiations between the Canadian government and senior Canadian Rotary leaders, the Canadian government has agreed to match all dollars raised through Canadian Rotary Clubs toward Polio Plus through the Rotary Foundation.

The (Bill & Melinda) Gates Foundation will also match donations 1:1. This means that between now and March 31st, 2013 – we have the opportunity to access $3 for every $1 donated - to inject a desperately-needed $3 million from Canada towards winning this battle. The general public is encouraged to make a personal donation to Rotary in the name of Polio Plus. A tax receipt for your donation will be issued and every dollar contributed will be quickly transformed into $3. Contact Janet Stead at 705-689-9090 or by email at jstead@ctccomputertraining.com or visit www.endpolio.org to make an online contribution.