Rotary invests $15 million to keep Africa polio-free

Five African nations are set to benefit from $15 million in funds from Rotary International aimed at ending polio.

The funds are part of a $35 million grant by the humanitarian service organization in support of efforts to keep both the continent and world free from the highly infectious and potentially fatal disease of polio that destroys nerve cells in the spinal cord and could cause irreversible paralysis. While polio can strike at any age, it mainly affects those younger than 5 years old.

The $15 million will be divided among Nigeria, Ethiopia, Chad, Somalia and Cameroon -- all countries which are currently polio-free. The last wild polio case in Africa was reported in August 2014, with Nigeria being the last polio-endemic country on the continent; the World Health Organization removed Nigeria from its list of endemic countries this past September.

The rest of the $35 million grant will be used for polio research in addition to supporting eradication efforts in the endemic and at-risk countries of Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and Iraq. The disease is currently only spreading between people in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Rotary has been dedicated to ending polio worldwide since 1985, when it launched its polio immunization program known as PolioPlus. It is also one of four spearheading partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative created in 1988.

“We are closer than ever to achieving a polio-free world,” Rotary International PolioPlus Committee Michael McGovern Chair said. “To ensure that no child ever again suffers the devastating effects of this disease, we must all ensure that the necessary funds and political will are firmly in place in 2016.”

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