How Rotary Became the Heart & Soul of Polio Eradication


The Rotary District 7620 Project Trust Fund intends to own and produce a broadcast-ready documentary about the Rotary leaders who had the courage and vision to believe that Rotary could eradicate the wild-polio virus from the entire world. We are looking for strategic partners in the production of a documentary about these little known heroes who have already changed our world for the better in ways that most people today can’t imagine.


According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control) by 1979 the wild polio virus was eradicated from the US and the entire developed world. Yet even though the Salk and Sabin vaccines had proven successful in eradicating the virus, there were still more than 1,000 cases of polio being reported around the world in developing countries every day. Rotary International, one of the world’s largest international service organizations, was searching for a way to celebrate the organization’s 75th anniversary.  Having set a goal of raising $12 million, they hoped to do something that was international in scope and that could have a major impact on world health. In 1979, a very small group of Rotary visionaries decided that worldwide polio eradication was actually possible, and began a crusade that is possibly the most successful public health campaign in the history of the world. Today, thirty-seven years later, WHO officials report that there were only 73 cases of wild polio virus worldwide in 2015. Most experts expect the world to be polio free in the next year or two. When this milestone is achieved, it will be only the second time in history that a wild virus has been completely eradicated (smallpox was the first.)


To tell the story of the men and women who dared to dream such an impossible goal back in 1979. Were they visionaries who fully understood the task they were undertaking, or were they fools that simply didn’t understand the enormity of tackling a goal that was just too far out of reach? What can we learn from the Rotary leaders who accepted this challenge? What do they think of their own contribution, and the contribution of an enormous multi-organizational team, including the WHO, CDC, UNICEF, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, now that the goal is about to be achieved? We believe that telling the story of these unknown and heroic community servants is crucial to everyone’s understanding of why the world is about to be a much healthier place. It is also an inspiration to all to have a true, larger than life example of how a small group of visionaries can inspire others and literally change the world.

The Production

Pixel Workshop, an award winning production company, located in Columbia, MD will be producing the documentary. Based on our funding, we intend to produce multiple versions of the program. We will produce an hour-long version that is suitable for broadcast on outlets such as the Discovery Channel, The History Channel, and PBS. We will also cut the same content down to a twenty-minute documentary that is suitable to be shown at Rotary club programs in more than 35,000 Rotary Clubs around the world with a potential audience of 1.2 million viewers. Rotary International’s international PR dept, located in Evanston, IL, will help to arrange distribution worldwide.


A few of the most important players in this story are still alive and can help to tell the story from a first hand perspective. Notably, Dr. John Sever, the past Director of the Infectious Disease Branch, Institute of Neurological Diseases, National Institute of Health, was the Rotarian who originally suggested that the Rotary Foundation take on the challenge of eradicating polio. Clem Renouf, Rotary International President in 1979, is responsible for helping to create the grant program within the Rotary Foundation, empowering the organization towards taking up the polio challenge. In addition to first hand accounts of this tale, we intend to have numerous celebrity and non-celebrity “story-tellers” educate the audience by narrating the story over a variety of historical photos and video. We expect the finished product to look and feel very much like a “Ken Burns” style documentary.