BY KATHY KANE
Poliomyelitis (Polio) has existed as long as human society, but became a major public health issue in late Victorian times with major epidemics in Europe and the United States. Polio is incurable, but completely vaccine-preventable. The disease, which causes spinal and respiratory paralysis, can kill and remains incurable but vaccines have assisted in its almost total eradication today.
In 1916, New York experienced the first large epidemic, with more than 9,000 cases and 2,343 deaths. The 1916 toll nationwide was 27,000 cases and 6,000 deaths. Children were particularly affected. Major outbreaks became more frequent during the 20th century: in 1952, the U.S. saw a record 57,628 cases.
In 1928, Philip Drinker and Louie Shaw developed the “iron lung” to save the lives of those left paralyzed by polio and unable to breathe. Most patients would spend around two weeks in the device, but those left permanently paralyzed faced a lifetime of confinement.
A major breakthrough came in 1952 when Dr Jonas Salk began to develop the first effective vaccine against polio. Mass public vaccination programs followed and had an immediate effect; in the United States alone cases fell from 35,000 in 1953 to 5,300 in 1957. In 1961, Albert Sabin pioneered the more easily administered oral polio vaccine.
In 1985, Rotary launched its PolioPlus program, the first initiative to tackle global polio
eradication through the mass vaccination of children. Rotary has contributed more than $1.6 billion and countless volunteer hours to immunize more than 2.5 billion children in 122 countries. In addition, Rotary’s advocacy efforts have played a role in decisions by donor governments to contribute more than $7.2 billion to the effort.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative, formed in 1988, is a public-private partnership that includes Rotary, the world Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and governments of the world. Rotary’s focus is advocacy, fundraising, volunteer recruitment and awareness building.
Today, there are only three countries that have never stopped transmission of the wild poliovirus: Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. Less than 75 polio cases were confirmed
worldwide in 2015, which is a reduction of more than 99.9 percent since the 1980s, when the world saw about 1,000 cases per day.
The polio cases represented by the remaining 1 percent are the most difficult to prevent, due to factors such as geographical isolation, poor public infrastructure, armed conflict and cultural barriers. Until polio is eradicated, all countries remain at risk of outbreaks.
Every dollar Rotary commits to polio eradication will be matched two-to-one by the Gates Foundation up to $35 million a year through 2018. These funds help to provide much-needed operational support, medical personnel, laboratory equipment, and educational materials for health workers and parents. Governments, corporations and private individuals all play a crucial role in funding.
More than 1 million Rotary members have donated their time and personal resources to end polio. Every year, hundreds of Rotary members work side-by-side with health workers to vaccinate children in polio-affected countries. Rotary Members work with UNICEF and other partners to prepare and distribute mass communication tools to reach people in areas isolated by conflict, geography, or poverty. Rotary members also recruit fellow volunteers, assist with transporting the vaccine, and provide other logistical support.
The Trenton Rotary Club has led some local initiatives, including with member Noel Jackson, a Trenton dentist who led a skydiving team for Polio event and raised more $17,000 with the matching grant from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
A goal of The Trenton Rotary Club this upcoming year is to establish a worldwide challenge to see what club can raise the most for Polio. Pink is for breast cancer, they are asking that when you think Purple, you think of polio eradication. The club is also known for its Roar on the River every summer, as well as family and anti-bullying programs, and donates funds and support to more than 50 charities and events yearly.
The group currently has openings for new members with like views on community and volunteerism. Please share or post your purple pinkie or what you have raised for Polio on the Trenton Rotary Facebook page. You can also donate any tax deductible amount this holiday season for the Purple Pinkie Polio Challenge at trentonrotary.net.