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Rotary Members Worldwide Prepare For Mass Immunization Campaigns In Polio-Endemic Countries

Volunteers play a critical role in world's largest global health endeavor

EVANSTON, Ill., Feb. 3 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In the coming months, hundreds of Rotary club members from the United States, Canada, Australia, Denmark, Italy, Korea, the United Kingdom and the Caribbean will join thousands of their fellow Rotary members, other volunteers and health workers to immunize children against polio in India and Nigeria.

Through Rotary International, the fight against this crippling disease has been largely volunteer-driven. Never before has the influence of the private sector played such a critical role in a global public health effort.

"Rotary International is the top private sector contributor and volunteer arm of the eradication initiative," says Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization. "The 1.2 million Rotarians envisioned a polio-free world, and then challenged governments and health agencies to pursue this vision."

Overall, great progress has been made in the effort to end polio. In the two decades since Rotary and its global partners launched the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, cases worldwide have decreased by 99 percent. The disease remains endemic in just four countries -- Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan -- although other countries remain at risk for imported cases.

Rotary members are doing everything in their power to ensure success during this final phase. Polio survivor Ann Lee Hussey, who will lead a group to Nigeria for immunization activities in March, has volunteered for immunization drives in a half-dozen countries. "I don't want any child, anywhere, to go through the suffering that I and thousands of other children experienced," she says. "Polio is a preventable disease and we have the tools to eradicate it right now."

Rotary's commitment to end polio represents the largest private-sector support of a global health initiative. Since 1985, Rotary has raised nearly US$800 million worldwide, and has contributed countless volunteer hours to help immunize more than two billion children in 122 countries.

Dong Kurn Lee, president of Rotary International, notes that volunteer efforts are an integral part of the global campaign against polio. "It means so much to the two billion children now living lives free from polio," he said. "Because of the work that The Rotary Foundation has helped support, five million cases of paralysis and more than 250,000 deaths from polio have been prevented. We are in the last stages of the fight against polio."

To help address the critical funding gap for polio immunization activities, Rotary has accepted a challenge from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to raise $200 million to match challenge grants totaling $355 million. The resulting $555 million will support polio eradication activities in the remaining polio-endemic and high-risk countries.

A highly infectious disease, polio causes paralysis and is sometimes fatal. As there is no cure, 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. After an international investment of $6.4 billion over 21 years, and the successful engagement of over 200 countries and 20 million volunteers, polio could be the first disease of the 21st century to be eradicated.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is spearheaded by the World Health Organization, Rotary International, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). It includes the support of governments and private sector donors.

Rotary is an organization of business and professional leaders united worldwide to provide humanitarian service and help to build goodwill and peace in the world. It is comprised of 1.2 million members working in over 33,000 clubs in more than 170 countries. In addition to polio eradication work, Rotary members initiate community projects that address many of today's most critical issues such as violence, AIDS, hunger, the environment and clean water.

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SOURCE Rotary International
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