Then the world had 350,000 cases of polio in 125 countries. Fast forward to 2018, when there were 33 cases of wild polio in two countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That represents more than a 99.9% reduction in global polio cases. Recently after nearly two decades of being polio free a couple of cases were reported in the Philippines. Doctors, nurses and volunteers are working and in some cases giving their lives to help with the cause. Because of the ease of world travel, as long as a single child remains infected, children in all countries are at risk of contracting polio. We should not become complacent about this. Only one human disease has ever been eradicated from the world – that’s smallpox. With your help we can make that two.
For many of us in this country polio is becoming a distant memory but it still exists elsewhere and mainly affects children under 5. One in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis (usually in the legs). Among those paralysed, 5% to 10% die when their breathing muscles become immobilized. Perhaps you watched the Call the Midwife episode when the doctor’s son was struck down by the disease and saw the terrible and frightening iron lungs used at that time to aid breathing. Equipment might have improved but the results of the disease still take a terrible toll. (Mary Berry of ‘Bake-Off’ fame had polio as a youngster and spent time in an iron lung.)
Polio can be eradicated. The virus is transmitted only by infectious people. People are the only reservoir. No poliovirus has been found to exist and spread among animals. Mass campaigns using oral polio vaccine, where all children in a specified geographic area are immunised simultaneously are being carried out. We have the tools and scientific know-how to eliminate polio in the remaining countries that harbour the disease. Rotary is doing its part to turn obstacles into opportunities in war-torn countries. Afghan Rotarians are working side by side with the government and other GPEI partners, often in dangerous places, to meet with local leaders who can foster community acceptance of the vaccine and dispel misinformation. These volunteers walk, travel on bikes, trains and boats to bring the oral vaccine to more children.
Polio is not an isolated problem. The communities where polio thrives are also affected by other health issues and lack clean water and proper sanitation. To respond to multiple health needs at the same time, Rotary is also focusing on projects that complement polio eradication efforts such as building water filtration plants. With your ongoing support, we can continue our progress.
20p buys 1 dose of vaccine. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will donate 40p to make that 3 doses. For every £1.00 donated the Gates Foundation will donate two more pounds. £10.00 will generate £30.00.
Purple 4 Polio is the logo used by Rotary in the UK and Ireland for events and fund-raising for the End Polio Now Campaign. Last year the Rotary Club of Birmingham arranged for the Birmingham Library to be illuminated in purple to highlight this campaign. Other buildings across the UK were lit up in purple and thousands of purple crocus corms are planted each year across the country.
Or find out more about all the charities that the Gilbert and Sullithon supports.