Fighting Polio – A Lamorinda Connection
World Polio Day was Oct. 24, a global day to raise awareness for the worldwide effort to eradicate polio. It can be hard to remember the devastating effects of polio, but as recently as 1977, there were 254,000 people in the United States who had been paralyzed by polio. In 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated there were 10 to 20 million polio survivors worldwide.
Rotary has dedicated itself to ending polio since the late 1970s, and Orinda Rotarians have contributed thousands of dollars and countless volunteer hours to that effort. Today, Rotary is amazingly close to eradicating polio worldwide and there is a pivotal Lamorinda connection to this success: former Moraga Rotarian, Cliff Dochterman.
In 1978, Dochterman was part of a group of international leaders who came together to figure out how Rotary could do more for the world. Together, they created Rotary International’s Health, Hunger and Humanity program to leverage our global reach to tackle global problems.
The next year, under the “3H” program, Rotary began its fight to end polio with a multi-year project to vaccinate six million children in the Philippines.
Building on that effort, Dochterman helped create the Polio Plus program to raise the money needed to make a difference. This was the first and largest internationally coordinated, private-sector support of a public health initiative.
A decade later, an estimated 350,000 polio cases existed in 125 countries. So Rotary and the WHO launched the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, and by 1994, polio was eliminated in the Americas.
In 1995, health workers and volunteers vaccinated 165 million children in China and India, IN ONE WEEK. In 2000, 550 million children, almost 10% of the world’s population, received the oral polio vaccine, and the Western Pacific region from Australia to China was declared polio-free.
Rotary’s tremendous, coordinated effort to eradicate polio was paying off. In 2003, just 15 years after polio was rampant in 125 countries, only six countries remained where polio was endemic.
Rotary contributions reached $800 million in 2009. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation joined our fight. By 2011, Rotary’s total contributions to end polio exceeded $1 billion.
The WHO declared Africa to be polio-free in 2020, ahead of the target date and today, polio is endemic in only two countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan, with only a handful of new cases.
Since Dochterman and other Rotary leaders targeted polio as part of the 3H program, members have contributed more than $2.2 billion dollars and countless volunteer hours to the fight. Together, with our partners, we immunize more than 400 million children every year.
Millions of lives saved. Millions of people who avoided the crippling disease. All because Dochterman and his colleagues asked the most important question anyone can ever ask, “What can we do?”
Cliff was president of Rotary International in 1992-93 and was recognized around the world as a speaker, leader, innovator and humanitarian. Here in Lamorinda he was our neighbor and our friend. He died late in 2021, just before he turned 96, after a life devoted to Service Above Self. He remains an inspiration for us all.
If you want to learn more about the fight against polio or how you can help, email me.
A follow up: Rotarians and Orindans raised more than $8,000 to support those affected by the fires in Maui. Your donations have been received by the Maui Fires Relief Fund. Thank you.