Today marks a significant milestone for Africa in its effort to eradicate polio from the continent. A full year has passed since Africa’s last reported case caused by the wild poliovirus.
Somalia was the last country to identify a new case, which occurred on 11 August 2014. While Africa has achieved an important public health milestone, the job is not yet finished. To end polio forever, all countries – both endemic and non-endemic – must strengthen routine immunization, address gaps in disease surveillance and do more to reach children who are still being missed by vaccinators.
“We cannot wind down our efforts now. We need to continue immunizing until the last country is certified polio-free, and thereafter,” says Dr. Tunji Funsho, chair of Rotary’s Nigeria PolioPlus Committee. “As long as the virus remains anywhere in the world, it is only a plane ride away.”
Rotary members have played a key role in the eradication effort. They have led the way in raising funds, advocating for government support, building awareness, and mobilizing volunteers on the ground.
“The work of Rotary and the Global Polio Eradication Initiative has also cut through the clichéd narrative of Africa as the land of poverty, disease, and conflict,” says RI General Secretary John Hewko. “Real human development has been achieved despite the toughest obstacles and despite the opinion of many who thought we could not eradicate this disease in Africa.”
Strong continued support toward polio eradication in these final years of the campaign is the best way to ensure that today’s milestone will indeed mark the last case of polio in Africa, says Michael McGovern, chair of Rotary’s International PolioPlus Committee.
“Rotary members have many opportunities to make a difference, including being part of history as we seek a polio-free world,” McGovern says. “Members have led the way in fundraising and lining up volunteer support for polio eradication.”
Through 2018, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is matching 2-to-1 every dollar that Rotary commits for polio, up to $35 million a year.
By Arnold R. Grahl