Our Rotary resolution each year remains the same: to end polio in the world. That resolve will continue until there is not one more case of polio on our planet.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines Poliomyelitis, commonly called polio, as a highly infectious viral disease, mostly affecting young children. The virus is transmitted person-to-person or by contaminated water or food. The virus multiplies in the intestine, gets into the nervous system and causes paralysis. The first symptoms do not appear alarming at first with fever, fatigue, headache, stiff neck and pain in the limbs. When those symptoms grow worse, the patient is often left paralyzed. There is no cure for this disease — only prevention through immunization via the Salk vaccine, a little pill that slips under the tongue.
Fifty years ago, polio was considered one of the most frightening public health problems in the world.
In 1952, the United States epidemic was the worst outbreak in our history with 58,000 cases reported. Numbers to the tune of 3,145 people died and 21,269 were left with disabling paralysis. The most famous victim of polio was President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who started the March of Dimes Foundation to develop a vaccine. First called the Mothers March of Dimes, women were encouraged to go door-to-door to collect dimes. I remember my own mother going to her neighbors and school drives, where children placed dimes in large cards, all to end polio. The drive was really called the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, an organization which funded research for a vaccine.
Jonas Salk was a physician who gathered a skilled research team and for seven years worked diligently on development of the vaccine. News of the success of the vaccine became public on April 12, 1955, Salk was hailed as a miracle worker. Countries around the globe started campaigns using the Salk vaccine. Salk considered public health as a moral commitment. He was not interested in personal financial gain and would issue no patent, saying, “Could you patent the sun?” His focus was on a mandatory vaccination for every person. Rotary is still working on that in the remaining countries where polio is still a threat.
On Sept. 25, 2015, WHO announced that Nigeria is polio free and has been removed from the list of countries where polio is endemic. To get this status, Nigeria had to prove it had been 14 months free of any new cases of polio. That leaves only two countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the transmission of the virus has not been stopped. This accomplishment by Nigeria came about through large national and international financial commitment, and the dedication of thousands of professional volunteers who put together new strategies to reach children who had not previously been immunized.
With Nigeria now polio-free, Rotary’s focus will be placed on vulnerable children from Afghanistan and Pakistan, while still continuing to immunize the children in polio-free countries.
Michael K. McGovern, chair of Rotary’s International Polio Plus Committee said recently, “With a fully funded program and global commitment to ending this disease, we have the opportunity to interrupt transmission of the wild poliovirus in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2016 and opening the door for certification of a global eradication in 2019.With Rotary members’ continued support, we will soon see our dream of a polio-free world realized.”
Every week when the Rotary Club of the Abingtons meets, the campaign for the eradication of polio continues. We have a container where loose change can be dropped, a reminder of the March of Dimes. As we partner with Rotary Clubs nationally and then internationally we are able to come up with a sizeable chunk of change. To that the Gates Foundation adds two dollars to every one of our dollars, increasing the original loose change to grow to the millions needed for immunization for every person in the world.
So on this, the first week of the new year, where hope is at its highest, where the achievement of anything at all is possible in 2016, I wish each of you a Happy New Year.
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