On or around Oct. 24, many of the world's 33,000 plus Rotary Clubs will hold events to raise awareness of our continuing fight against Polio. These events in recognition of World Polio Day are celebrated annually on the birthday of Dr. Jonas Salk, who led the team which developed the first Polio Vaccine in 1952.
Since Polio was eradicated from the United States in 1979, many ask why we are still fighting Polio. Eliminating Polio in the U.S. was just a first step. In 1979, Rotary International President Clem Renouf was searching for a global project for the Rotary Foundation's Health, Hunger and Humanity program. After reading about the eradication of Small Pox, Renouf contacted a friend, John Sever, head of the National Institute of Health infectious diseases branch, to ask what disease could Rotary target? Sever recommended that Rotary fight Polio and the battle was born.
The first major step was to bring the Salk Oral Polio Vaccine to the Philippines starting in 1979 to immunize six million children. In 1985, Rotary developed a global strategy called PolioPlus building an enduring public-private partnership that continues today.
Poliomyelitis is an infections disease caused by the Polio virus. Many of those infected with the disease show no symptoms so it is very difficult to prevent transmission. Ending the disease in one place does not end the threat. You must eradicate it completely and globally. Also, the disease mainly impacts children under five and can cause irreversible paralysis. The symbol of the disease in America was the "Iron Lung" which was invented to aid breathing when a victim's diaphragm was paralyzed. In 1988, the World Health Organization estimates there were 350,000 cases of poliomyelitis caused by the wild Polio virus. In 2018, there were 33 reported cases. We have made incredible progress but there is still a long way to go.
Because of Polio's highly contagious nature, eradication will require large percentages of the global population to maintain immunity through vaccinations. Polio is still present in the areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan which are incredibly difficult to access due to multiple reasons. Rotary is not shy but continues to work to provide immunizations to eliminate this disease in all areas of the globe. The reduction of suffering is immeasurable and the fight will continue until we have eliminated this disease and then taken on our next global project to meet the Rotary motto of "Service Above Self."
There are many incredibly informative websites about the fight against Polio. A good place to start is at www.endpolio.org. This site can guide you to multiple other places to learn about the value of fighting disease.
The Rotary Club of Richmond and Baptist Health Richmond will be holding a meet and greet to learn more about Rotary and the Polio fight at the Madison County Library, Richmond Branch at 570 West Main St, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. The public is welcome to our World Polio Day event on Oct 22. Please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org if you plan on attending.
David O'Meara, Colonel, USAF (Retired), is the Rotary Club of Richmond Recording Secretary.