world move closer to polio-free status
On 13 June, hundreds of Rotarians attended a special PolioPlus update session at the 2006 Rotary International Convention at Copenhagen's Bella Center. Guest speaker Dr. David Heymann, of the World Health Organization, reported new developments in the fight to eradicate polio.
"Progress in the last 12 months has been extraordinary," said Heymann. "Two new vaccines have been developed and are in wide use, along with a whole new strategic approach to attack type 1 polio."
A powerful new vaccine, developed and licensed within six months to meet the challenge of eradicating the disease in Egypt and India, is more effective than previous ones. This vaccine was the key to success earlier this year when Egypt and Niger were removed from the list of polio-endemic countries.
In 2005, Rotary International contributed US$24.2 million and countless volunteer hours to help immunize more than 400 million children in 49 countries against polio — a crippling and sometimes fatal disease that still threatens children in parts of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.
Rotary and its global partners at the World Health Organization (WHO), U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and UNICEF, also helped the world move several critical milestones closer toward eradicating polio globally — Rotary’s top philanthropic goal. These include the successful introduction of more efficient and targeted oral polio vaccines, reaching children in the hardest endemic areas and ending the epidemic in west and central Africa (outside Nigeria).
Great progress has been made in 2005. Two countries were declared polio-free, leaving only four polio-endemic in 2006 (Nigeria, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan). Egypt reported its last poliovirus in January 2005, and Niger's cases in 2005 were all importations from Nigeria. Rotary remains committed to a polio-free world, and will continue to provide financial and volunteer support until the certification of polio eradication is achieved.
Health experts agree that stopping the spread of polio can be done this year, except in Nigeria, where at least an additional 12 months will be required to finish the job. Victory is within our reach and all member countries have affirmed in May at the World Health Assembly that they are ready to pursue their efforts until the job is done, said Dr. David Heymann, WHO Representative for polio eradication.
The primary challenge to polio eradication is the ongoing transmission of the poliovirus in the remaining endemic areas from where it can continue to be exported into polio-free areas. In particular, northern Nigeria, the only place in the world where the year-to-year incidence of polio continues to increase, now accounts for 70 percent of all cases worldwide. In addition to the four endemic countries, eight countries have reported polio cases in 2006 due to such importations (Somalia, Yemen, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Niger, Nepal, and DRC).
In addition, further funding and political commitment in polio-affected countries are needed to implement the eradication strategies. According to WHO, a US$85 million shortfall must be filled as rapidly as possible to carry out essential polio immuniation activities in 2006. The eradication effort requires a further US$ 400 million for the 2006-2008 period.
Polio, an infectious disease that can cause paralysis and sometimes death, still strikes children, mainly under the age of five, in parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East. As there is no cure for polio, the best protection is prevention. For as little as .60 cents worth of vaccine, a child can be protected against this crippling disease for life.
Great strides have been made in polio eradication. In 1988, 10 percent of the world’s children lived in polio-free countries; as of 1 July 2005, over 70 percent are living in polio-free countries. When Rotary began its PolioPlus program in 1985, approximately 1,000 children were infected by this crippling disease every day. At the end of 2005, less than 2,000 children contracted polio all year, down from the 350,000 cases estimated in 125 countries in 1988. The Americas were declared free from polio in 1994, as well as the Western Pacific region in 2000 and Europe in 2002. Once eradicated, polio will be the second disease after smallpox ever to be eliminated worldwide.
In January 2006, global polio eradication partners announced a new strategic approach of targeting type 1 polio, the most difficult to control. Thanks to Rotary's assistance, polio campaigns also are now looking at ways to incorporate a strategy for immunizing people on mass public transportation, which in large cities can account for hundreds of thousands of people at a time.
"We develop the tools, but it is the Rotarians who are key to getting this vaccine in kids," said Heymann. "No vaccine works unless it's in a child."
International commitment also has been renewed, Heymann said. Countries where outbreaks occur will see greater international pressure to act fast because of a new resolution passed by the World Health Assembly that dictates how countries should respond. At the World Health Assembly in May, the European Union recently encouraged governments to do their part to help eradicate polio.
Heymann encouraged Rotarians to continue visiting and supporting fellow Rotarians from the endemic areas during National Immunization Days (NID). David Groner, of the Rotary Club of Dowagiac, Michigan, USA, agreed.
"We're all in this together, they [Rotarians in endemic countries] are the front line, and we're the cheerleaders," Groner said. "For club members who can't go to vaccinate, send a check for $100. It's the easiest thing you can do."
The challenges of overcoming technical, operational, and security challenges in the remaining polio-endemic countries of Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Nigeria remain. Yet Heymann stressed that the progress made during the last 12 months has put Rotary closer than ever to success, and he thanked Rotarians for their leadership and continued support.
The primary challenge to polio eradication is the ongoing transmission of the poliovirus in the remaining endemic countries. It's from these areas that polio can continue to be exported into polio-free areas. Health experts agree that stopping the spread of polio can be done this year, except in Nigeria, where at least an additional 12 months will be required to finish the job.
In conclusion, Heymann told Rotarians, "Thank you for what you've done for global health and for setting an extraordinary standard by which international partnerships are measured."
Rotary International is the world’s first and one of the largest volunteer service organizations with 1.2 million members in more than 160 countries. In 1985, Rotary created PolioPlus and set one of the most ambitious goals in the history of global public health to immunize the children of the world against polio. To date, Rotary has contributed nearly US$600 million toward polio eradication. More than 1 million Rotary members have volunteered their time and personal resources to help immunize more than two billion children in 122 countries.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is spearheaded by the World Health Organization, Rotary International, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).