When I was born, there were an estimated 350,000 cases of polio in 125 countries. This year, so far, there have been two cases in two countries. What changed?
In 1988, Rotary International and the World Health Organization launched the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) with the goal to eradicate poliovirus and prevent future generations from suffering its effects of paralyzation, or even death.
Since then, GPEI has continued to build momentum, gaining the partnership of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.
Today, 19 million people who would otherwise be paralyzed by polio are walking, and 1.5 million people who would otherwise have died are alive.
As we look to tackle the final 0.1% of polio cases, now is not the time to give up. But the tremendous progress certainly gives a reason to pause and celebrate on World Polio Day, October 24.
For me, it’s a time to consider the amazing power of Rotary.  When polio is finally eradicated, it will be one of history’s greatest public health achievements, following smallpox to become only the second human disease eradicated from the world.
Rotary was a pioneer of this effort, a private sector partner that not only raised billions of dollars, but also mobilized other organizations, governments, and institutions that are part of the movement. We used our networks and coordination to exchange knowledge and organize events and volunteers.
Each National Immunization Day (NID) requires careful advance planning and orchestration by each country and polio eradication partners. Volunteers, including members of our Sunrise Rotary Club, have worked to reach as many children as possible, providing the polio vaccine in the form of drops or injections to protect a life.
In the last few polio strongholds, this means delivering the vaccine in places that are geographically remote and struggle with extreme poverty, conflict, and other social barriers.
I know these challenges won’t stop Rotary from working to see a polio-free world. Rotarians take on the world’s toughest challenges, locally and globally.
The work is proof that anthropologist Margaret Mead’s statement is in fact true: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
To be a part of this effort, you can donate to the Santa Barbara Sunrise Rotary Foundation and indicate Polio Plus in the comments.