Recently, I was invited to speak to a group of about 40 college Freshmen and share information on Rotary and Rotaract programs. During my talk, I asked how many of them had heard of the word “Polio.”

Only seven students raised their hands. 

The fact that Polio is becoming less and less known among younger generations is a testament to the remarkable and monumental public health initiative that helped remove Polio from the United States and all but two countries in the world.  This is thanks to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative backed by the World Health Organization, UNICEF, Rotary International and countless volunteers to help immunize children and track the virus's presence.

Yet, the lack of knowledge about Polio – a highly contagious virus that can cause paralysis and plagued humanity for centuries – is frightening.  Until the disease is fully eradicated from every corner of the earth, we are just one plane-ride away from the disease being reintroduced, and potentially spreading, in a polio-free area.  Knowledge of the disease, its behavior, and how we can prevent spread is critical. That’s why Rotary works to further Polio education on World Polio Day and all year round.  And the ripple effect to reach those outside our organization begins with you. 

This year, there are a few activities our District has planned to help raise awareness and funds for Rotary’s Global Polio Eradication Initiative. These events are open to Rotary, Rotaract, Interact members as well as the public:

  • Hunt to End Polio, October 21 – this family-friendly urban scavenger hunt will lead participants around areas of San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhood to discover interesting features in the city and learn more about Polio. Learn more at
  • Flight to End Polio, October 30 – Rotarian pilots Peter Teahen and John Ockenfels, just completed an Around the World Flight in a Cessna T210M single engine piston aircraft to raise money for PolioPlus.  To date, this flight has raised over $500,000 in donations, and when matched by the Gates Foundation, will raise over $1.5 million to Eradicate Polio! Teahen and Ockenfels will share their exciting adventure with us. They are among an elite group of pilots who have circumnavigated the globe in a single engine plane.  Click here for details.

In addition, here are ideas on how you can help us with furthering polio education in your clubs and communities.

To date, Afghanistan and Pakistan are the last countries with ongoing transmission of the wild poliovirus. However, challenges such as vaccine hesitancy, security concerns in conflict areas, and logistical obstacles continue to pose significant barriers to complete eradication. Nevertheless, the commitment of global health organizations and the dedication of frontline workers remain unwavering, making the dream of a polio-free world closer to reality than ever before.

Help us keep the dream of a Polio-free world alive by educating others and continuing to support the Polio Plus campaign.


About the author: Laine Hendricks is a member of the Rotary Club of San Francisco and serves as District Governor for the 2023-24 term.