The World Health Organization (WHO) has officially certified the Africa region as polio-free and our local Rotary clubs have played a significant role in this global public health achievement.
A major milestone in the battle to eradicate the disease worldwide, it is the result of decades of effort from Rotary clubs and volunteers around the world, who have fundraised, campaigned and worked tirelessly since Rotary pledged to rid the world of polio more than 30 years ago.
This progress is the result of a decades-long effort across the 47 countries which make up the WHO’s African region and now means that five of the six WHO regions (which represent 90 per cent of the world’s population) will be free of polio.
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The certification comes four years after Nigeria, the last polio-endemic country in Africa, recorded its final case of wild polio.
Getting to this momentous stage has involved millions of health workers travelling by foot, boat, bike and bus to reach children in remote places and to vaccinate those living among conflict and insecurity.
Appreciation of our efforts is made clear from the photograph of the man on the motorbike (courtesy of © Rotary International).
Polio is a debilitating disease, mainly affecting children, which can cause paralysis and even death.
Local Rotarians have played their part by fundraising, also planting purple crocuses and illuminating local buildings in purple light to raise awareness.
Purple is symbolic of the colour painted on a children’s pinkies to mark they have been vaccinated.
Globally, more than 2.5 billion children have been protected against the disease, reducing the number of cases by 99.9 per cent from around 1,000 cases per day in 125 countries.
Rotarians have contributed nearly US $890 million to conquer polio in the region. Although it has been many years since polio has been present in the UK and Ireland, we are proud to have contributed to the global efforts to eliminate the disease for good. We remain committed to making the final, challenging steps towards making a polio-free world a reality.
If we don’t finish the job, it is estimated that, within 10 years, as many as 200,000 children annually all over the world could succumb to polio, including here in the UK. The virus can literally be a plane ride away.
My own club (Peterborough Ortons) are raising money with a `Flight for Life’ involving sponsorship of pigeons racing to help our cause and plan to plant 4,000 crocus corms to celebrate World Polio Day on October 24.
Despite this significant milestone being reached, the job to fully rid the world of polio goes on, as the virus continues to circulate in parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In order to sustain our progress, vaccination programmes must continue to protect every last child so the virus does not return to Africa or other parts of the world.
To get involved in Rotary and make a difference in your community and around the world, visit www.rotarygbi.org/join