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Global health organizations recognize Rotary International’s unprecedented role in the fight to end polio worldwide

Joint media release WHO/UNICEF/CDC

On the occasion of Rotary International’s 100th anniversary, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative today paid tribute to the humanitarian service organization’s commitment to ending polio worldwide.

As a key partner in the Initiative – the world’s largest health drive which also includes the World Health Organization (WHO), US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and UNICEF – Rotary is the leading private-sector contributor second only to the United States Government. Since 1985, when Rotary launched its PolioPlus program, individual Rotary members have collectively raised US$ 600 million and contributed countless volunteer hours to help immunize more than two billion children in 122 countries.

“In the effort to eradicate polio, Rotary International has spurred a model private-public partnership. The combined strengths of civil society, the private sector, governments and international agencies, have made enormous progress in what once seemed an impossible task," Dr. LEE Jong-wook, Director-General of WHO, told Rotarians gathered for the centenary celebrations in Chicago, Illinois.

The spread of polio could end this year. Just over 1 000 cases were reported in 2004, compared to 350 000 in 1988– a 99% reduction. Of the remaining six endemic countries, four in Asia and North Africa have recorded just 30 cases between them in 2005. In west and central Africa, only three countries have reported cases this year: Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria. This is despite a major epidemic that swept the region in 2004, causing outbreaks in 16 previously polio-free countries.

African nations have fought hard against this epidemic, launching massive synchronized immunization drives reaching over 100 million children. The latest previously polio-free countries to record polio importations are Yemen and Indonesia, where governments are holding emergency immunization campaigns to stop the virus becoming re-established.

Thanks to these efforts, the end of polio looks close. But the goal is threatened by a major funding shortfall. This initiative urgently needs US$ 50 million dollars in 2005 and another US$ 200 million in 2006.

“Rotarians continue to be the heart and soul of the polio eradication effort,” said Ann M. Veneman, Executive Director of UNICEF. “In addition to their own record-breaking financial contribution for polio eradication and countless volunteer hours, Rotarians have helped leverage a further US$ 1.7 billion from governments for the cause.”

At Rotary’s Centennial celebrations in Chicago, Illinois, the partners presented Rotary with a statue symbolizing the drops of oral polio vaccine that protect children from the disease. Dr. Julie Gerberding, Director of CDC, said "the day the world is declared polio-free, we will all have Rotary International to thank."

Rotary International is the world’s first and one of the largest non-profit service organizations. It is comprised of 1.2 million members working in over 33 000 clubs in more than 160 countries. In 1988, a resolution of the World Health Assembly formed the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

Notes to editors:

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is spearheaded by the World Health Organization, Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and UNICEF.

The poliovirus is now endemic in 6 countries – Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Niger, Afghanistan and Egypt – down from over 125 when the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was launched in 1988. Polio is spread by faecal-oral contact and can be prevented by an oral vaccine.

The polio eradication coalition includes governments of countries affected by polio; private sector foundations (e.g. United Nations Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation); development banks (e.g. the World Bank); donor governments (e.g. Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Portugal, Qatar, the Russian Federation, Spain, Sweden, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States of America); the European Commission; humanitarian and nongovernmental organizations (e.g. the International Red Cross and Red Crescent societies) and corporate partners (e.g. Sanofi Pasteur, De Beers, Wyeth). Volunteers in developing countries also play a key role; 20 million have participated in mass immunization campaigns.

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For more information contact:

Sona Bari
WHO/Geneva
Telephone: +41 22 791 1476
E-mail: baris@who.int

Steven Stewart
CDC
Atlanta
Telephone: +1 404 639 8327
E-mail: znc4@cdc.gov

Claire Hajaj
UNICEF
New York
Telephone: +1 646 331 4547
E-mail: chajaj@unicef.org