Small altruistic acts collectively have a powerful impact in disease prevention.

Thousands die each day around the world from infectious diseases which are easily preventable. If asked to name how many preventive vaccinations you have had, how many could you list? There are at least 10.

In my lifetime there have been major achievements like the eradication of smallpox. But in my childhood there were serious problems from diseases like TB and Polio. People with TB were committed to sanitoria to shield the public from them until effective antibiotics were found. Polio ruined many lives until a mass vaccination programme was undertaken and was a major concern as I grew up.

Polio is almost eradicated now but still requires mass vaccinations where outbreaks occur. These are now in politically and geographically difficult areas to reach.

Perhaps inspired by the success with smallpox Rotary spearheaded the campaign at a time when there were about 1000 cases a day around the world causing paralysis and death. Today the numbers are down by 99.9%Over the last 35 years, Rotary members, working with communities around the world, have contributed more than US$2.1 billion and countless volunteer hours to the fight to end polio.

Inspired in part by Rotary’s volunteer commitment and fundraising success, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) was launched in 1988.This remarkable partnership which includes Rotary, World Health Organization, UNICEF, the US Centre for Disease Control & Prevention and, more recently, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and GAVI the Vaccine Alliance. These organisations work alongside governments of the world to end polio.

The Gates Foundation doubles any money collected through Rotary for the eradication programme. Because of the efforts of Rotary and our partners, nearly 19 million people who would otherwise have been paralysed are walking, and more than 1.5 million people are alive who would otherwise have died.

Despite there only being a handful of cases left in the world, continued campaigning, health worker training and vaccination programmes are essential to stop the disease returning and ensuring the world is certified polio-free. Over 400 million children still have to receive their polio vaccinations by the GPEI partners multiple times every single year in more than 50 countries.

Rotary members continue to be key players in many aspects of the polio programme including on the ground in a number of countries as well as fundraising and advocacy. Failure to eradicate polio could result in as many as 200,000 new cases worldwide every year within a decade.

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