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In advance of the Oct. 24 observance of World Polio Day 2014, Rotary announces US$2 million in grants to combat polio in Ethiopia. The funds – part of Rotary’s broader contribution of $44.7 million to end the paralyzing disease worldwide – will be used by UNICEF to support high quality polio immunization campaigns.

For the second year in a row, Rotary will mark World Polio Day with a livestream event featuring a global status update on the fight to end polio as well as an array of guest speakers and performers. The event, which will stream live from Chicago, Ill., can be viewed at endpolio.org.

In Ethiopia, Rotary’s PolioPlus program will celebrate World Polio Day by hosting a commemoration ceremony in conjunction with the World Health Organization, UNICEF and the Ethiopian Ministry of Health. The PolioPlus program will also host a World Polio Day march to mark the occasion and raise awareness of the disease.

Polio is set to become the second human disease ever to be eliminated from the world (smallpox is the first). To date, Rotary has helped 193 countries stop the transmission of polio through the mass immunization of children. Rotary’s new funding commitment targets countries where children remain at risk of contracting this incurable, but totally vaccine-preventable disease.

There are only three countries in the world where the wild poliovirus has never been stopped: Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. However, the virus from these countries can travel and lead to outbreaks in other parts of the world. In fact, last year the majority of the world’s polio cases stemmed from outbreaks in countries that had previously been polio-free. In particular, an outbreak in the Horn of Africa resulted in 217 cases in 2013, including nine in Ethiopia.

“We are pleased it appears we have halted the polio outbreak in Ethiopia,” said Tadesse Alemu, Rotary’s National PolioPlus Chair for Ethiopia, referencing the country’s only case this year, recorded more than nine months ago on 14 January. “However, given the mobility of our global
society, until polio is gone from Africa – and the world – Ethiopian children will remain at risk for this disease.”

Rotary provides grant funding to polio eradication initiative partners UNICEF and the World Health Organization, which work with the governments and Rotary club members of polio-affected countries to plan and carry out immunization activities. Mass immunizations of children via the oral polio vaccine must continue until global eradication is achieved.

Approximately $18.5 million will go to the three remaining polio-endemic countries: Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. An endemic country is one where the wild poliovirus has never been stopped. Another $9.5 million is marked for previously polio-free countries currently reporting cases “imported” from the endemic countries: Cameroon, Ethiopia, and Somalia. And
$10.4 million will go to polio-free countries that remain at risk of reinfection: Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Niger, South Sudan, and Sudan.

The remaining $6.3 million will go toward polio eradication research.

Funds for these countries will be used to fight existing polio outbreaks, or to conduct campaigns to protect against the high risk for reinfection. Countries experiencing conflict, like Ethiopia’s neighbor Somalia, are at particular risk for polio outbreaks.

To date, Rotary has contributed more than $1.3 billion to fight polio. Through 2018, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will match two-to-one every dollar Rotary commits to polio eradication (up to $35 million a year). As of 2013, there were only 416 confirmed polio cases in the world, down from about 350,000 a year when the initiative launched in 1988.

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