Major achievement focus of Rotary's World Polio Day event

Polio eradication is truly a collective effort … This accomplishment belongs to all of us.

— Dr. Tunji Funsho

Chair of Rotary’s Nigeria PolioPlus Committee

A collective effort

Dr. Tunji Funsho, chair of Rotary’s Nigeria PolioPlus Committee and a member of the Rotary Club of Lekki Phase 1, Lagos State, Nigeria, tells online viewers that the milestone couldn’t have been reached without the efforts of Rotary members and leaders in Africa and around the world.

Funsho, who was recently named one of TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2020, says countless Rotarians helped by holding events to raise awareness and to raise funds or by working with governments to secure funding and other support for polio eradication.

“Polio eradication is truly a collective effort … This accomplishment belongs to all of us,” says Funsho.

Rotary and its members have contributed nearly $890 million toward polio eradication efforts in the African region. The funds have allowed Rotary to award PolioPlus grants to fund polio surveillance, transportation, awareness campaigns, and National Immunization Days.

This year’s World Polio Day Online Global Update is streamed on Facebook in several languages and in a number of time zones around the world. The program, which is sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, features Jeffrey Kluger, editor at large for TIME magazine; Mark Wright, TV news host and member of the Rotary Club of Seattle, Washington, USA; and Angélique Kidjo, a Grammy Award-winning singer who performs her song “M’Baamba.”

The challenges of 2020

It’s impossible to talk about 2020 without mentioning the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than a million people and devastated economies around the world.

In the program, a panel of global health experts from Rotary’s partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) discusses how the infrastructure that Rotary and the GPEI have built to eradicate polio has helped communities tackle needs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, too.

“The infrastructure we built through polio in terms of how to engage communities, how to work with communities, how to rapidly teach communities to actually deliver health interventions, do disease surveillance, et cetera, has been an extremely important part of the effort to tackle so many other diseases,” says Dr. Bruce Aylward, senior adviser to the director general at the WHO.

Panelists also include Dr. Christopher Elias, president of the Global Development Division of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Henrietta H. Fore, executive director of UNICEF; and Rebecca Martin, director of the Center for Global Health at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Elias says that when there are global health emergencies, such as outbreaks of other contagious diseases, Rotarians always help. “They take whatever they’ve learned from doing successful polio campaigns that have reached all the children in the village, and they apply that to reaching them with yellow fever or measles vaccine.”

The program discusses several pandemic response tactics that rely on polio eradication infrastructure: Polio surveillance teams in Ethiopia are reporting COVID-19 cases, and emergency operation centers in Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan that are usually used to fight polio are now also being used as coordination centers for COVID-19 response.

The online program also includes a video of brave volunteer health workers immunizing children in the restive state of Borno, Nigeria, and profiles a community mobilizer in Afghanistan who works tirelessly to ensure that children are protected from polio.

Kluger speaks with several people, including three Rotary members, about their childhood experiences as “Polio Pioneers” — they were among more than a million children who took part in a huge trial of Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine in the 1950s.