Poliomyelitis is a highly infectious disease that most commonly affects children under the age of 5. Most know it as poliovirus. The virus is spread person to person, typically through contaminated water. Many Americans may not realize that the virus continues to plague young children in some parts of the world; the United States was certified as polio-free in 1979 and all of the Americas were certified in 1994.

Rotary International and several other organizations will not stop the fight until this disease is eradicated globally as they believe all children are at risk until the virus is destroyed.

Oct. 24 is World Polio Day, a day on which progress towards the goal of eliminating polio worldwide is reviewed annually by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative members.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is a public and private effort to address polio and includes representatives from over 200 national governments, the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and many other additional involved partners. The global campaign to eradicate the polio virus started in 1988, and there has been a 99.9% reduction in polio cases with over 2.5 billion children vaccinated in the past thirty years as a result of the efforts executed by this committed group.

This year, the second of three polio virus strains (wild poliovirus type three) was declared eradicated. Only two other diseases – smallpox and wild poliovirus type two – have been eradicated globally previously. Also, it has been almost three years ago since a new case of polio was identified in Nigeria, which means that it is possible that the entire continent of Africa could be certified polio-free in 2020, another major milestone in the fight.

“Both of these milestones are critical steps towards the ultimate goal of a polio-free world,” said Michael K. McGovern, chair of Rotary’s International PolioPlus Committee. “The eradication of wild poliovirus type 3 and Nigeria’s good news demonstrate tremendous progress, but there is still much work to be done as we address the increase in cases in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In the face of challenges, reaching these historic benchmarks shows us that polio eradication is possible, and it’s important that we harness this momentum to secure the funding and political support needed to end polio for good.” (Note: quotation reprinted with permission from Audrey M. Carl, PolioPlus Global Communications Strategist, Rotary International.)

The only active virus left is still being diagnosed in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Recent government regulation changes have slowed progress in this region: door to door vaccinations are no longer permitted, however, they have been replaced with vaccination clinics. Identification of unvaccinated children is challenging with this change, and there has been an increase in new cases recently as a result.

Rotary International has pledged $50 million US dollars annually for five years in grants to continue to fight the disease. This amount can vaccinate up to 38.4 million children as well as to provide surveillance, technical assistance, and operational support. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have pledged a two to one match of these funds.

For more information on the continued fight, please visit endpolio.org or rotary.org.

Rotary International is a worldwide service organization with the primary purpose of bringing together business leaders to provide humanitarian services and to advance peace around the world. The worldwide organization is comprised of over 33,000 local clubs in 200 countries. Each club holds weekly meetings and organizes local service projects, and focuses on making their community a better place. Locally, there are many clubs, all of whom welcome and encourage new members. If you are interested in putting ‘service before self,’ please visit www.rotary7780.org to select a local club. Today’s column comes from the Brunswick Rotary Club, established in 1925. The Brunswick Club meets most Mondays at noon in Brunswick and all prospective new members are welcome to join us. Program and meeting details can be found at brunswickmainerotary.org. Our club is currently offering 2020 calendars featuring local pictures by Rotarians for $20. Proceeds help to finance our annual bike rodeo, games on the mall, school supply gifts and annual scholarships. Contact us through our website or on Facebook.

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