An End to Polio – Within Sight
When I was a child, summer was a season to be feared. Polio virus stalked the world, killing and crippling tens of thousands every year in the USA alone. FDR was a polio surviver who wore baggy pants to hide his leg braces.
Tropical Africa, Asia, South and Central America were hit the hardest. Virtually every villiage had gimping polio survivers. Orthopedic surgery in those days was largely treating the disabled victims of polio, making their lives a little less hard.
60 years ago a miracle! A vaccine. Many people feared vaccination, but most feared polio more. Within 20 years polio was a rarity in the USA, but children throughout the rest of the world still fell victim to the killer and crippler of millions.
In 1979 Rotary vaccinated 6 million children in the Phillipines, starting a world-wide campaign to eradicate polio from the entire world. But how do you do that? You have to vaccinate EVERY child in the world. And keep repeating as more children are born.
Rotary International declared all-out war on Polio in 1985, bringing the project to the entire world. In every country, local Rotarians took the lead. Every child vaccinated, every 3 to 5 years on continents where polio still had a foothold. An unbelievably ambitious project, costing many billions of dollars and billions of volunteer hours.
Nearly finished. Less than 100 new cases of polio last year worldwide. We still must vaccinate every child near the remaining locations in Africa and Asia, until the count is zero for several years. Only then can we celebrate the eradication of polio, as we recently celebrated the possible end of smallpox.
Waterloo Rotary Club celebrated 100 years yesterday. One of our members, Doug Oberman, is a polio surviver who still spends every night in the modern equivlent of the old “iron lung”. A successful lawyer despite useless arms and weak legs, he was a leader in bringing the Polio Plus campaign to the world.
Polio Plus also vaccinates against Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Pertusis, Diphtheria. Those still kill and disable. They will take longer.
Well Done Rotary International. Keep up the good work
Jay Ginther, MD