The Work Begins

In 1979, Rotary began it’s first initiative to end polio. Rotary provided vaccines for children in the Phillipines. Rotarians worldwide banded together to help wipe out this life destroying disease. With partners, they helped immunize more than 2.5 billion children against polio in 122 countries. A child can be protected against this disease for life for as little as $0.60 (sixty cents).

Polio Threatens Generations

Polio is a crippling disease known to exist from the beginning of recorded history. Ancient Egyptian paintings and carvings depict otherwise healthy people with withered limbs, and children walking with canes at a young age.

The clinical term for the disease is poliomyelitis.  It has been known as Dental Paralysis, Infantile Spinal Paralysis, Essential Paralysis of Children, Regressive Paralysis, Myelitis of the Anterior Horns, Tephromyelitis (from the Greek tephros, meaning “ash-gray”) and Paralysis of the Morning.[1]

In the 1900s, this disease grew to epidemic proportions, beginning in Europe. New York City declared an outbreak epidemic in June of 1916. That year there were over 27,000 cases and more than 6,000 deaths due to polio in the United States, including over 2,000 deaths in New York City alone.[15]  From 1916 onward, a polio epidemic appeared each summer in at least one part of the United States. The largest and most serious outbreaks occurred in the 1940s and 1950s.[1]  The disease grew larger each year. Parents had to face the sad truth that their children were crippled for life. There was no cure.

Prevention is Possible

We use two vaccines throughout the world to combat polio. The first, developed by Jonas Salk, was first tested in 1952, and announced to the world by Salk on April 12, 1955.[54] The Salk vaccine, or inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV), consists of an injected dose of killed poliovirus. In 1954, the vaccine was tested for its ability to prevent polio. The field trials involving the Salk vaccine grew to be the largest medical experiment in history. Immediately following licensing, vaccination campaigns were launched. By 1957, following mass immunizations promoted by the March of Dimes the annual number of polio cases in the United States came down from a peak of nearly 58,000 cases, to 5,600 cases.[12]

Rotary Fights On

Today, outbreaks continue, but the number of cases of Polio worldwide is small. We are winning the fight. In recent years we have only seen outbreaks in three countries.  Rotary’s End Polio Now initiative continues to target this disease where the risk is greatest, and the population does not have resources of its own.

Polio cases worldwide
Polio Cases, Locations, and Strains Worldwide as of 25 September 2018

Help Us End Polio

Together, Rotarians make change beyond our borders.  We invite you to help us win the fight against Polio with your donation.  Learn more here.