Polio Free World- This Close- Says Rotary!

Polio Free World - This Close - Says Rotary!
Annette Petrick
Baby boomers remember friends or relatives afflicted with polio. The image of a child encased in an iron lung from the neck down had American parents in a panic in the 1940s and 50s. The diagnosis meant death or lifelong suffering. It’s the disease that paralyzed President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Since 1979, vaccine has freed US children and adults from this dread disease. Many areas of the world, however, continued to suffer its ravages. As long as polio exists anywhere, it could again become widespread.
In 1985, Rotary International launched PolioPlus, the first and largest coordinated private-sector support of a public health initiative. The program was started with an initial pledge of $120 million and manpower to provide the vaccine that prevents polio.
Funds came from some 1.2 million Rotarians in 200 countries and geographic areas. Donations collected at Rotary meetings and through fund raisers have amounted to more than $1.5 billion over the last 30 years. Hundreds of thousands of volunteer hours have been spent to immunize more than 2.5 billion children in 122 countries.
Members of the Rotary Clubs of Shenandoah County have been avid supporters of PolioPlus for all three decades. Local clubs meet in Woodstock, Strasburg, Mount Jackson/Edinburg and New Market. In 2016, the effort to eradicate polio is being recognized on October 24 as World Polio Day to raise awareness, funds and support to end polio.
Global Partnership
In 1988, three years into its PolioPlus program, Rotary International was joined by other partners in The Global Polio Eradication Initiative. This partnership combined members of the 3,500 Rotary Clubs world-wide with the World Health Organization (WHO), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNI-CEF, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and governments of the world.
Rotary is the leading non-governmental contributor. The organization’s focus is advocacy, fundraising, vol-unteer recruitment and awareness-building. Rotary’s advocacy played a major role in convincing donor governments to contribute more than $7.2 billion to the effort.
“From the launch of the global initiative in 1988, more than seven million people are now walking who would otherwise be paralyzed,” stated Carter Knapp, president of the Rotary Club of Woodstock. He added, “A child can be protected against polio for as little as 60¢ worth of vaccine.”
99.9% To Goal
Less than 75 polio cases were confirmed worldwide in 2015. That’s a reduction of more than 99.9% since the 1980s, when polio affected some 350,000 children a year. As of September 16, 2016, only 26 cases of polio were confirmed this year.
To sustain this progress, and protect all children from polio, $1.5 billion is urgently needed. Without full fund-ing and political commitment, this paralyzing disease could return to previously polio-free countries, putting children everywhere at risk.
“Anyone who has seen a human being dragging across the ground because they have lost the use of their legs through polio would be moved to support this cause” stated Knapp.
Remaining Challenges:
In 2014, Rotary celebrated a huge achievement; India was certified as polio-free. Today, there are only two countries that have never stopped transmission of the wild poliovirus. They are Afghanistan and Pakistan.
A major breakthrough has occurred in Pakistan with the Rotary-funded Lady Health Workers (LHWs). Women from local villages visit their neighbors to provide oral vaccine to their children. They find that doors open to them, because they are local and therefore trusted. Pakistan now reports a near 50% reduction in cases in 2016 compared to the same time in 2015.
Fewer than 10 cases have been reported in Afghanistan so far in 2016.
The World Health Organization recently confirmed two cases of wild poliovirus in Nigeria. These are the first cases in the country since July 2014. Knapp explained, “When all of Africa goes three years without a case of polio, WHO will certify the region as polio-free.”
The polio cases represented by the remaining .1% are the most difficult to prevent, due to geographical isola-tion, poor public infrastructure, armed conflict and cultural barriers.
‘This Close’ Campaign: 
Rotary has a growing roster of public figures and celebrities participating in its “This Close” public awareness campaign. Well known personalities are spreading the word that eradication of polio is within reach. One of those ambassadors is Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.
“Until polio is eradicated, all countries remain at risk of outbreaks,” stated Knapp. “As Rotary International and its partners work on their end game, the members of the Rotary Clubs of Shenandoah County continue our support. We are “this close” and it’s no time to stop now!”