During a speech to Rotary leaders in February 1985, then Rotary President Dr. Carlos Canseco announced what he considered “the biggest news in Rotary” — the commitment to help control polio worldwide.

Since that day, Rotary’s dedication to the global eradication of polio has remained constant. 2015 marks the 30th anniversary of PolioPlus and three decades of progress and challenges the program has faced.

Though the PolioPlus program started in 1985, Rotary began the fight against polio much earlier. In 1979 Rotary members began a multiyear program that immunized more than 6 million children in the Philippines against polio (Rotary.org).

Polio eradication became a top priority to Rotary after urging from Canseco, Dr. John Sever and Dr. Albert Sabin. Sever, a Rotary club leader, was the head of the infectious diseases branch of the National Institute of Neurological and Communicative Diseases and Stroke at the National Institutes of Health. As the developer of the oral polio vaccine, Sabin gave the program a globally respected figure.

Since the launch of the GPEI, the global incidence of polio cases has decreased by 99 percent. In March 2014 India, once deemed the most difficult place to end polio, was declared polio-free, making the entire Southeast Region polio-free.

As of February 11, Africa had no new cases of wild poliovirus in six months, though the continent must mark three full years without a new case to be officially declared polio-free by WHO. Until polio is stopped in the remaining endemic areas, all countries must maintain high levels of surveillance and immunization rates to rapidly detect any importation of the poliovirus and minimize its impact. Now that 99 percent of the world’s population lives in regions certified polio-free, the goal of eradication is closer than ever.

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