Rotary clubs move closer to ending polio worldwide

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 22, 2003

[8/22/03]Rotary International is closing in on one of the most ambitious public-health projects ever undertaken by a private organization eradication of polio worldwide through global immunization.

Kay Steed, governor of the Rotary district that encompasses Vicksburg, spoke in behalf of the effort here Thursday.

Rotary International became involved in fighting polio in 1979 when it made a five-year commitment to provide and deliver polio vaccine to 6 million children in the Philippines. Over the next four years, similar commitments were approved for Haiti, Bolivia, Morocco, Sierra Leone and Cambodia. Rotary then established the PolioPlus Program to eliminate the disease from the whole world in 1985.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

Polio is a viral disease that attacks the nerves, resulting in paralysis of muscles. It is spread through the air and enters the body through the throat and breathing structures. It was eradicated in the United States beginning first with the injectable Salk vaccine and then with the orally administered Sabin vaccine.

The international civic organization pledged $120 million to fund the program. Within three years, Rotarians around the world had doubled their goal and raised $270 million, hoping to reach its goal of the elimination of polio by 2005, the 100th anniversary of Rotary’s founding. It is expected by that date, Rotary’s financial commitment will exceed $500 million.

The funds raised by Rotary have been turned over to world health organizations that buy the vaccine and get it to the countries where it is administered by volunteer workers.

Since the program was begun, governments and private organizations have become involved.

“Last year Rotary raised $87 million to get a matching grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation,” said Steed, who lives in Madison, adding that Rotarians’ donations resulted in $167 million going toward PolioPlus.

The program has been successful with the disease being eradicated from most of the nations of the world. Now there are only pockets of the polio virus existing in such countries as Afghanistan, Pakistan and India and parts of Africa, she said.

In the past year, the 42 clubs in Steed’s District 6820 located in Central Mississippi, have raised $117,000 toward Rotary and the world health organization’s final effort.

“I have high hopes for success,” Steed said.

Locally, the Vicksburg Rotary Club took on the challenge to raise $10,000 in 2003 and named Shouphie Habeeb as the chairman of the effort. Since the first of the year, the Vicksburg club has raised nearly $8,700.

“Ten thousand dollars is a tremendous amount of commitment,” Steed told the club. “I commend you for that.”

She said Rotarians belong to an organization that has taken on the commitment to eradicate polio.

“Think about that, a polio-free planet. Rotary’s gift to the children of the world,” Steed said.

There is still much to be done, she said, adding one of her goals for District 6820 is to have at least one Mississippi Rotarian go on a volunteer mission to help administer polio vaccine in one of the countries where there is work to be done. It will take both a commitment of money as well as time because although the world health organizations pay for the vaccine and for transporting it, they do not pay for travel for the volunteers. The trips take about 15 days each and cost the volunteer about $3,300 in travel expenses.

Habeeb said he is excited about PolioPlus and the local club’s efforts to help in the worldwide effort.

“I think it is one of the best services this Rotary Club has ever adopted,” he said.

Habeeb said the $10,000 the club hopes to raise by the end of 2003 will pay for enough vaccine to immunize 120,000 children.

“It is one of the best programs Rotary International and the Vicksburg Rotary Club has ever undertaken. We in Vicksburg have seen what polio can do,” he said referring to the polio treatment centers that were at the old Vicksburg Hospital and old Mercy Hospital in the 1940s and 1950s.

“We’re so proud we can be a part of it,” he said.