In the early 20th century, polio killed or crippled hundreds of thousands of people every year, most of them children. Today, there are fewer than 400 cases a year. This exhibit tells the story of Rotary’s commitment to making polio the second human disease (after smallpox) to be eradicated globally.

The centerpiece of this exhibit is an iron lung. Some polio victims were paralyzed to the point that their diaphragms could no longer contract. The iron lung was invented in the late 1920s to help these polio victims breathe. With the introduction of polio vaccines in the 1950s, the use of the iron lung decreased drastically in areas where children were routinely immunized, but polio persisted in many parts of the world.

In 1985, polio was endemic in more than 125 countries, afflicting 1,000 people a day. That same year, Rotary launched PolioPlus, a multimillion-dollar campaign to immunize all the world’s children against polio. In 1988 the World Health Assembly resolved to wipe out the disease globally.

Since then, Rotary and its partners — the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — have staunchly supported the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI). Rotary has helped immunize more than 2.5 billion children, mobilized public support for ending polio, contributed over $1.5 billion to the GPEI, and helped solicit financial support from donor nation governments resulting in over $10 billion in contributions.

The incidence of polio has declined by 99 percent and the disease is now endemic in just three countries. We are closer than ever to winning a polio-free world.

This exhibit was created by Rotary International.