Polio is an Evil Disease

            Polio has been called an evil disease because it affects primarily small children causing paralysis or death.  This disease can disrupt their whole life, causing the victim to be permanently crippled.  There are some who in later years develop the post-polio syndrome which can cause their handicap to become worse.  Some have had to give up using crutches and have had to be permanently in a wheel-chair.
Rotary became involved in the eradication of polio in 1979 when, with a large grant, they carried out an immunization program in the Philippines.  This was very successful and polio was eradicated there.  Then at the RI Convention in Kansas City in 1985 Dr. Albert Sabin, who developed the oral polio vaccine, addressed the convention.  He challenged Rotary saying, “We have given you the tools (the vaccine) and you have the international organization that could immunize the children of the world and eradicate this disease.”  Rotary accepted that challenge and formed a partnership with the World Health Organization, UNICEF and the Centers for Disease Control with the goal of eradicating polio. 
During the years since this program was initiated there has been great success in reducing the incidence of polio in the world by over 99% and reducing the number of countries having endemic polio from 125 to only 3.  It has been difficult working in undeveloped countries with over population, extreme poverty and poor sanitation.  A few years ago some scientists were saying in civilized countries with good sanitation and good immunization programs it is possible to stop the spread of polio but in these third world countries it was not possible.  In the last 3 years no new cases of polio have been reported in India.  This has been a tremendous accomplishment for this was a country with many of these problems.  Getting up to 90% of their children immunized has stopped polio there and proven that technically it is possible to eradicate polio.
There have been frustrations.  The incidence of polio in the endemic countries is continuing and the outbreaks in countries that have been polio-free have been serious. .  Polio can spread so easily because most of the children who have it are not paralyzed.  They are not recognized as having polio and yet are excreting the virus and spreading the disease to any child who is not immunized.  It has been pointed out, with the recent outbreak of measles in this country that some parents are not keeping up the immunization of their children, and if they are not immunized against polio it could recur here. There have been political problems.  In Pakistan, one of the endemic countries where they had 297 cases of polio last year which represents 85% of the world’s new cases.  Pakistan has prevented health workers from entering their country and have murdered over 50 of them in the last 3 years
 In the last few years there has been some good news.  A new more potent vaccine has been developed.  Type II and Type III polioviruses have been eradicated.  Another important addition to this program has been the addition of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2007.  They have matched Rotary’s giving and have contributed much more. A message was received recently from Carol Pandak, who is the Director of PolioPlus at RI in Evanston, Illinois.  She said there is much excitement around the Rotary world in light of the fact that there has not been a case of wild polio transmission in Nigeria since July 2014, and no outbreak in Africa since August 2014.  But she cautioned it is not time to celebrate, there is a long way to go yet.  We are “this close” but we are not there yet.  There is still a large funding gap.  If Rotary is going to keep our pledge “That no child ever again will be paralyzed by polio” our clubs and we as Rotarians must continue our giving.  Remember that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will match whatever we give on a 2-to-1 basis.  So keep up your good work,  Rotarians.  ~ Dr. Paul Nelson