Supporting Polio Eradication

In 1985, Rotary International launched PolioPlus, a 20-year commitment to eradicate polio. PolioPlus is one of the most ambitious humanitarian undertakings ever made by a private entity. It serves as a world class model for private-public collaborations in the fight against disease well into the 21st century.

As the polio-eradication program grew, so did Rotary's commitment and involvement. By 1990, Rotary moved from providing polio vaccine to children in developing countries to assisting health care workers in the field, providing training for laboratory personnel to track the polio virus and working with governments around the world in supporting the historic health drive. How is Rotary involved in the global polio-eradication effort?  Financially: In 1985, Rotary was recognized by the World Health Organization as a non-governmental organization working in the field of international health. In the same year, Rotary set a goal to raise US$120 million to provide oral polio vaccine to newborns in the developing world. When the campaign ended, Rotary had doubled its goal, collecting more than $247 million. To date, the PolioPlus program has contributed $373 million to the protection of nearly 2 billion children. By 2005, Rotary's financial commitment had reached nearly $500 million.  In 2009 The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded US$255 million to Rotary International in the global effort to eradicate polio, bringing the total committed by Rotary and the Gates Foundation to $555 million.

Shortly after meeting with incoming district governors from the four countries where the wild poliovirus is endemic - Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan - Bill Gates announced the new grant on Wednesday morning at the International Assembly in San Diego, California, USA.

“Rotarians, government leaders, and health professionals have made a phenomenal commitment to get us to a point at which polio afflicts only a small number of the world’s children,” Gates said. “However, complete elimination of the poliovirus is difficult and will continue to be difficult for a number of years. Rotary in particular has inspired my own personal commitment to get deeply involved in achieving eradication.”

"We are going to end polio now," affirmed Robert S. Scott, chair of RI's International PolioPlus Committee.

In response to the new $255 million Gates Foundation grant, Rotary will raise $100 million in matching funds. In November 2007, RI received a $100 million Gates Foundation grant, which Rotary committed to match by raising $100 million.

The two Gates Foundation challenge grants now total $355 million. Rotary International’s matching effort in response is called Rotary’s US$200 Million Challenge, which must be completed by 30 June 2012.

The $255 million grant is one of the largest challenge grants ever given by the Gates Foundation and the largest received by Rotary in its 104-year history. Rotary will spend the grant in direct support of immunization activities carried out by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, which is spearheaded by RI and its partners, the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and UNICEF. Rotary will distribute the funds through grants to WHO and UNICEF.