From left: President Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan; President Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan; Bill Gates, Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Ramesh Ferris, Rotarian and polio survivor; President Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria; Wilfrid Wilkinson, Rotary Foundation Trustee Chair; Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan, World Health Organization.
Rotary International has made a new funding commitment of US$75 million over three years to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI). Rotary, which has already contributed nearly $1.2 billion to the GPEI, announced the commitment at a 27 September high-level side event on polio eradication, convened by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
The side event -- “Our Commitment to the Next Generation: The Legacy of a Polio-free World” -- brought together leaders of the remaining endemic countries, and representatives of donor governments, development agencies, the GPEI partners, and the media to underscore the urgent need to finish the job of global polio eradication. Although the wild poliovirus is endemic only in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria, other countries are still at risk for re-established transmission of the virus through its “importation” from the endemics.
Ban urged UN member states to ramp up their support for the GPEI, launched in 1988 by Rotary, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The partnership now includes the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the United Nations Foundation.
“This decisive moment is a matter of health and justice. Every child should have the right to start life with equal protection from this disease. That’s why I have made eradicating polio a top priority for my second term as Secretary-General,” said Ban.
“Governments need to step up and honor their commitments to polio eradication if we are to achieve our goal of a polio-free world,” said Wilfrid Wilkinson, chair of The Rotary Foundation. “We are at a true tipping point, with success never closer than it is right now. We must seize the advantage by acting immediately, or risk breaking our pledge to the world’s children.”
“The evidence is clear: if we all do our part, we can and will end this disease. But we must act quickly and give ourselves the very best chance to succeed,” said Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the leading donors to the GPEI. “When we defeat polio, it will motivate us to aim for other great health and development milestones.”
The Islamic Development Bank (IDB), a new donor to the polio eradication effort, announced a US$227 million loan to Pakistan, which will cover the majority of the county's polio vaccination campaign costs. The IDB also announced a $3 million grant for polio activities in Afghanistan.
In addition, Julian Fantino, Canadian Minister of International Cooperation, announced a “Three for One Polio Challenge Initiative” with Rotarians in Canada and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Through the initiative, the Canadian International Development Agency and the Gates Foundation will each contribute to the GPEI C$1 for every $1 raised by Canadian Rotarians up to $1 million. Upon completion, the initiative would generate a total of $3 million for the GPEI.
These additional funding commitments follow action taken in May by the World Health Assembly, which declared polio eradication a “programmatic emergency for global public health.” Polio cases have plummeted by more than 99 percent since 1988, when the disease infected about 350,000 children a year. Although new polio cases are at an all-time low -- fewer than 150 worldwide in 2012 as of 19 September – the $790 million funding shortfall through 2013 has already curtailed scheduled immunization activities in polio-affected countries. If eradication fails and polio rebounds, up to 200,000 children a year could be paralyzed.
“Failure to eradicate polio is unforgiveable, forever. Failure is not an option. No single one of us can bring this long, hard drive over the last hurdle. But together we can,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization.
Rotary and its GPEI partners have reached more than 2.5 billion children with the oral polio vaccine, preventing more than 8 million cases of paralysis and hundreds of thousands of pediatric deaths. Rotary’s chief responsibilities in the initiative are fundraising and advocacy, an increasingly important role as the polio end game draws near.
Earlier this month, Rotary launched a new website to garner greater support for the global polio eradication effort. More than 6,000 visitors signed a petition on the site calling for world leaders to commit additional resources to close the funding gap. Wilkinson presented the signatures on Rotary’s behalf during the UN polio eradication side event. Visitors to the site can also estimate the potential dollar value they can generate by sharing the polio eradication message through Facebook, Twitter, and other social media.
“The unwavering commitment of Rotary members has been vital to the incredible progress of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative,” said Wilkinson. “How critically important it is for the global community to seize this historic opportunity before us to end polio now."