Rotary International has released an $34.8 million more in grants to support polio immunization activities in 10 countries, including Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan, the three countries where the disease never has been stopped.
The funds will be used by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF for polio immunization and surveillance activities in the countries, as well as to provide technical assistance in several other African nations.
The grants include $8.1 million for Nigeria to support its final push to eradicate the disease. Nigeria experienced a nearly 90% reduction in cases in 2014 compared with the previous year, and hasn’t registered a new case of polio in the last six months.
“Nigeria has managed an incredible feat,” said Dr. Tunji Funsho, Rotary’s PolioPlus chair for Nigeria. “However, now we must be more vigilant than ever, as our progress is fragile.”
Commitment to polio eradication from all levels of the Nigerian government — which is in the midst of battling the Boko Haram terrorist armies — has proved crucial to the country’s recent progress. Disease experts are urging political leaders to maintain this focus as national elections approach next month.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative, in which Rotary is a partner, made significant progress against polio in 2014 in most places. More than half of the world’s cases in 2013 were the result of outbreaks in previously polio-free countries, largely caused by instability and conflict in countries including Syria, Iraq, and Somalia. The outbreaks appear to have been stopped last year following special vaccination efforts in 11 countries that reached more than 56 million children.
“We are encouraged to see the tangible progress made against this disease in 2014,” said Mike McGovern, chair of Rotary’s International PolioPlus Committee. “However, until we eliminate polio from its final reservoirs, children everywhere are at risk from this disease. Rotary — along with our partners — will work hard to ensure that the world’s most vulnerable children are kept safe from polio.”
One less promising spot in the polio eradication fight has been Pakistan, which saw an explosive outbreak totaling more than 300 cases in 2014, the most there in more than a decade. As a result, Pakistan accounted for almost 90% percent of the world’s cases last year. Part of that outbreak is laid to often-fatal attacks on workers volunteering to distribute vaccine.
In addition, the grants include $321,000 will provide technical assistance in Africa.
To date, Rotary has contributed more than $1.3 billion to fight polio. Through 2018, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will match 2-to-1 every dollar Rotary commits to polio eradication, up to $35 million a year. In 2014, there were only 350 confirmed polio cases in the world, down from about 350,000 a year when the initiative began in 1988.