Since making the pledge in 1985 to eradicate polio - its most ambitious programme to date - Rotary International in partnership with health agencies has brought the number of cases of polio down by 99 percent.
Rotary International is now talking confidently about the 'End Game' and both Gary Huang, the President of RI and John Hewko, General Secretary of RI, have stated publicly that "Polio WILL be eradicated by 2018" but that will not be achieved without a final push from all Rotarians.
The good news is that India has been declared polio-free after three years without a new outbreak, but there remain three endemic countries - Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. Comparing new outbreaks in 2013 with 2012, the trend is clearly downwards - 217 cases in 2012 and 160 in 2013, a reduction of 26%. However, in Pakistan there was an increase of 60% (up to 93 in 2013 from 58 in 2012).
In 2014 there have also been outbreaks in Somali refugee camps in Kenya but 93% of children in the camps and 96% of children in nearby communities received a combination of oral and injectable polio vaccine. In the Syrian Arab Republic, a total of 37 cases have been reported, and evidence of regional spread of the virus has been confirmed in a case in a six-month old boy from Baghdad who had not been immunised. Immunisation campaigns are being undertaken in these regions.
As at the 30th June 2016 there had been a total of 18 cases of Poliomyelitis report in the world so far this calendar year. 12 of these cases came from Pakistan and 6 from Afghanistan. In 2015 there were a total of 74 cases of the Wild Polio Virus reported in the whole year. No new cases have been reported in Nigeria since 24 July, 2014. What is particularly encouraging is that polio cases normally increase rapidly during the hot months of summer, but there have only been two cases reported world-wide since the 24th of May.
Furthermore the number of vaccine derived polio has dropped significantly. There have been 3 cases reported from Laos in January and one of these was acquired in 2015 but only reported this year. No other cases have been reported anywhere this year. The future main effort is now to phase out the trivalent oral vaccine and to introduce bivalent inoculations as the main preventative immunisation. This is highly unlikely to cause polio, but is more expensive to produce and requires training to give. 1.5 billion US$ will be required by 2019 if we are to finish the job.
As Rotarians we have a responsibility to support the on-going work that will finally eradicate polio. We have been asked to contribute $35 million each year to 2018, and if we do, the Gates Foundation will add $2 for every $1 we raise to realise a total of $105 million each year.
There are some 1.2 million Rotarians world-wide so the personal commitment amounts to only $29 per Rotarian per year - about £18, or £1.50 per month, and what else can you buy for £1.50 that will have such a long-lasting effect?
Polio is the shortened name of poliomyelitis, the crippling disease caused by the polio virus. One in 200 cases results in paralysis, which leads to the limbs of the victim becoming limp and disfigured. The paralysis is almost always irreversible. Historically, polio has been the world's greatest cause of disability.
Polio can strike at any age but currently affects mainly children under five years of age in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. It is passed through person-to-person contact and is most prevalent in overcrowded conditions where standards of hygiene are poor. The virus enters the body through the mouth and multiplies in the intestine. Initial symptoms are fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiffness in the neck and pain in the limbs.