By Lisa Capobianco
In 1979, Rotary clubs banded together to help immunize millions of children with polio in the Philippines. By 1985, Rotary International launched PolioPlus, the first and largest internationally coordinated private-sector advocacy of a public health initiative, according to the organization’s website. Just three years later, Rotary raised $247 million for PolioPlus, which turned out to be double the amount of their initial fundraising goal of $120 million. That same year in 1988, the World Health Assembly established the Global Polio Eradication Initiative to help eliminate the disease in countries like China and India.
“It is a tremendous effort, and Rotary has played a significant role,” said Bob Yudkin, the president of the Plainville Rotary Club who knew a boy scout with polio when his sons were growing up.
Although Plainville Rotary Club focuses on a number of community projects that support the town’s youth and other local causes, Yudkin said his club also contributes to the PolioPlus campaign, donating at least $1,000 annually.
Local rotary clubs nationwide have contributed to the cause to end polio, which Dr. Art Blumer of Personal Care Pediatrics LLC in Southington describes as “a devastating viral infection that can cause paralysis and death,” and also spreads from person to person. Dr. Blumer, who has served as active member of the Southington Rotary Club since the 1970s, said he feels proud of the progress that Rotary International has accomplished with its cause. Over the past three years, the Southington Rotary Club has contributed about $4,000 to the campaign.
“I have seen changes at the Rotary International,” said Dr. Blumer, adding that Rotary volunteers administer oral vaccines to people in polio endemic countries.
According to Rotary International’s website, the last case of wild poliovirus in the Americas occurred in 1991, and by 1994, the Western Hemisphere became polio-free. In 1995, Rotarians, health workers and volunteers vaccinated 165 million children in China and India just in one week, reported the organization’s website. By 1996, 150 nations became polio-free, and in 2000, the Western Pacific region, spanning from Australia to China, triumphed with the eradication of the crippling disease, reported Rotary International. Last year, India disappeared off the polio endemic list.
“As a physician, I think this is fabulous,” Dr. Blumer said. “We will not quit until it is done.”
Although most of the world remains polio-free today, the disease remains active in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. To date, Rotary’s mission to eradicate polio has become more recognized by notable individuals. In 2009, the Bill & Melissa Gates Foundation pledged $355 million and gave a grant worth $200 million, also known as “Rotary’s $200 Million Challenge.” By 2011, Rotary welcomed celebrities and other public figures into a new public awareness campaign called “This Close” to ending polio, including Bill Gates and actor Jackie Chan.
“I think it is outstanding,” said Joanne Alfieri, the president of the Southington Rotary Club, adding that her club recently received a Gold Level donor award for its contribution to the PolioPlus campaign. “Rotary International has worked hard to eradicated polio in our lifetime. It is a huge undertaking.”