Local Action, Global Results – Rotary’s Effort Is Ending Polio

In a crowded plaza, in an underdeveloped country, a vaccination team is working fast.

Dressed in blue Rotary vests, guarded by armed military personnel, the team is frantically vaccinating children passing through with their parents. A white van packed with passengers slogs through the jammed traffic. Vaccinators catch it before it pulls away. One worker quickly explains to the driver what they are doing. Another worker reaches into a cooler for the vaccine. In the van, there is one child not yet vaccinated.

There is not enough room or time for the little boy to crawl to the door. He is passed out a rear window. Two drops of oral polio vaccine are dropped on his tongue and his pinkie finger is stained with purple ink to indicate that he’s inoculated. The van speeds off. Another child, another family, another generation are safe. The team looks for the next child.

The interaction is quicker than stopping for a red light and is played out across the world at bus stops, border crossings, army posts, and police checkpoints – wherever children are on the move. Each vaccination is one step closer to eradicating polio.

Rotary International has been working hard for the past 4 decades to eradicate polio and the end of this devastating disease is near, very near. Dexter’s Rotary Club has been supporting the effort since the local chapter’s inception almost 20 years ago. This year’s campaign is Oct 24 and is as easy to support as ordering a pizza from Jet’s Pizza where a portion of the profits that day will go to ending polio.

Vaccination campaigns are herculean efforts. A Cameroon campaign involved 34,000 vaccinators and 21,000 rental cars to canvas neighborhoods administering the vaccine. In Chad, a campaign involved 3,700 town criers and 45 radio spots. Ethiopia involved 14,000 local guides and 500 clan leaders to ensure that nomadic families were vaccinated.

“I think sometimes people don’t realize the scale of what these immunization campaigns are actually like,” says International PolioPlus Committee Chair Michael K. McGovern. “Rotary and its partners have administered 15 billion doses since 2000. We’ve immunized 2.5 billion kids. Repeatedly reaching the kids to raise their immunization levels is very personnel intensive.”

For those of us in Dexter, we can throw our support into eliminating polio by ordering a pizza from Jet’s Pizza in Dexter (or Saline) on Oct 24. A portion of the profits from that day will be designated for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

Rotary International isn’t intimidated by the mind-boggling complexity of these campaigns and remains committed to the eradication of the frightening disease.

Rotary’s 6th annual World Polio Day 2018 is October 24 and will take place at the College of Physicians in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The livestream begins at 6:30pm Philadelphia time offering Rotarians a chance to take part in World Polio Day and learn more about the exciting progress towards global polio eradication.

Polio (poliomyelitis) is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus. It invades the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis in a matter of hours. Polio can strike at any age, but it mainly affects children under five years old. There is no cure, but there are safe and effective vaccines. The strategy to eradicate polio is therefore based on preventing infection by immunizing every child until transmission stops and the world is polio-free.

The first major documented polio outbreak in the United States occurs in Vermont in 1894 resulting in 18 deaths and 132 cases of permanent paralysis reported. In 1916, a major polio outbreak in New York City kills more than 2,000 people. Across the United States, polio takes the lives of about 6,000 people, and paralyzes thousands more. It’s a terrifying disease that looms menacingly in the collective psyche until Dr. Jonas Salk develops a vaccine in 1955.

Rotary International began its fight against polio in 1979 with a multi-year project to immunize 6 million children in the Philippines. In 1988, Rotary International joined forces with the World Health Organization and together they launch the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. There are an estimated 350,000 cases of polio in 125 countries.

Since then, three more core partners, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the United Nations Children’s Fund have also come alongside Rotary International to form the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

Their progress is astounding. In 2017, there were only 22 new cases of polio reported in three countries – Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Until that number is zero for consecutive years, there is still a lot of work to ensure the safety of all children.

The eradication of polio is one of Rotary International’s longest standing and most significant efforts. Along with our partners, we have helped immunize more than 2.5 billion children against polio in 122 countries. We have reduced polio cases by 99.9 percent worldwide and we won’t stop until we end the disease for good.

Mark your calendar: Pizza for Polio, Oct 24, Jet’s Pizza in Dexter and Saline

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