Rotary's promise to kick polio out of Africa and the world took center stage as a football signed by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu and dignitaries from more than 20 African nations received a rousing welcome at the humanitarian organization's annual convention, which was held in Montreal, June 20-23.

"Polio eradication is not optional - it is an obligation," said Marie-Irène Richmond-Ahoua, Rotary's National PolioPlus Committee Chair and Outreach Advisor at United Nations Operation in Ivory Coast, as she presented the ball on stage to thunderous applause to RI President John Kenny. "We must commit to overcoming the remaining obstacles and free Africa, Southeast Asia, and the world from this crippling disease, which ruins the lives of children. As an African woman and mother, I will not tolerate it."

The arrival of the football culminates Rotary's Kick Polio Out of Africa Campaign -- a four-month, Pan-African public awareness drive tapping the continent's excitement over the 2010 World Cup and   mobilizing the public for  massive immunization rounds this spring targeting more than 100 million African children under the age of five. The ball passed through 23 polio-affected countries en route to Montréal.  The Kick-Out finale event was held in Alexandria, on June 12.  Egyptian National footballer Islam El-Shater kicked the ball toward the Mediterranean Sea - symbolically kicking polio out of the continent.

A virtual version of the ball ( was launched in May and has gathered nearly 10,000 online signatures thus far. After the 2010 World Cup, the signatures will be formally presented to the other spearheading partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative: the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"While most of the world is polio-free, it still threatens children in parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East," said Rotary International President John Kenny. "Kick Polio Out of Africa shows the tremendous resolve of the global community to come together to fight this disease. Rotary and its partners are committed to kicking polio out of Africa-and indeed-out of existence forever."

When former President Nelson Mandela launched the Kick Polio out of Africa campaign originally in 1996, almost all countries in Africa were still suffering from polio. Today, polio eradication sits at a critical juncture. Across Africa, 10 of the 15 previously polio-free countries re-infected in 2009 have successfully stopped their outbreaks. Nowhere is progress more evident than in Nigeria -- the last remaining polio endemic country on the continent - where case numbers have plummeted by 99 percent, from 312 cases at this time last year, to three cases in 2010.

In his keynote address at the Rotary Convention on June 22, Bruce Aylward, director of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative at the World Health Organization (WHO), encouraged the thousands of Rotary members in attendance to share the "terrific news" that polio is on the run, and that Rotary's vision of a polio-free world is within sight.

"The stakes are now much higher, because in the past 12 months you have proved, without a doubt, that polio can be eradicated. The world has also learned the full consequences of failure," said Aylward, referring to a current polio outbreak in Tajikistan which is now showing signs of stopping.

Rotary's Kick Polio Out of Africa campaign organizer June Webber echoed Aylward's message in Cape Town. "During the last 12 months, the world has witnessed what Africa can do when they get determined to do so. Football is a team sport - a unifying global force, much like the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) which has so many players."

The polio eradication initiative is facing a US $1.3 billion funding shortfall over the next three years, according to WHO. Calling for support from donor countries, footballers, and fans from the 32 countries represented at the 2010 FIFA Cup, Webber said, "We need your help to raise awareness and the much needed funds to finish the job. This World Cup is not just about the game. This World Cup presents a strong image of a united Africa to the world - and the profound power of the African Ubuntu spirit."

On February 23, when the Kick Polio Out of Africa campaign was launched, the V & A Waterfront in Cape Town and the Pyramid of Khafre, the second largest of the ancient Egyptian pyramids of Giza, provided a dramatic backdrop for an equally dramatic message: End Polio Now. This week, those words - En Finir Avec la Polio (in French) - were projected onto the exterior of Bonsecours Market in Old Montréal to celebrate the ball's arrival and re-affirm Rotary's determination to end this crippling childhood disease once and for all.

Beginning in 1985, when polio paralyzed more than 350,000 children in 125 countries every year, eradication has been Rotary's top philanthropic goal.  Since then, polio cases have been slashed by 99 percent worldwide, with fewer than 1,700 cases in 2009. Just four countries remain polio-endemic: Nigeria, Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan. However, other nations remain at risk for infections "imported" from the endemic countries.

As the volunteer arm and top private sector contributor in the polio eradication initiative, Rotary has contributed more than $900 million and countless volunteer hours to immunize more than two billion children in 122 countries. 
To see the football's journey, go to
To sign and kick the virtual ball, go to