World Polio Day and the fight against COVID

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Submitted by the Rotary Club of Westborough

World Polio Day and the fight against COVID
A child receives the Polio vaccine during a door-to-door immunization campaign at the Gubio Road Internally Displaced Persons camp in Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria.
Photo/Rotary International

Region – On August 25 of this year, the World Health Organization announced that Polio had been eradicated in Africa, following its elimination from the last country on the continent, Nigeria. Polio now exists only in Afghanistan and Pakistan. A generation ago, it was paralyzing 75,000 children a year in Africa alone. Although there is still much work to be done, this year we recognize this milestone on Oct. 24, World Polio Day.

Polio is a highly infectious disease that most commonly affects children under the age of five. Spread person to person, typically through contaminated water, the virus attacks the nervous system, and in many instances, leads to debilitating paralysis. Although there is no cure, there is a safe and effective vaccine.

Recalling her father’s ordeal with Polio, Rotarian Carolyn Spring shares, “My dad was a victim of polio.  He got it as an adult in his late 20s shortly after my parents were married.  He was left with a limp as his right leg was always weak.  He had to use both feet to drive since he could not move his right foot well enough to be able to control both pedals with it. He frequently used a cane and in later years he wore a brace sometimes for stability.  He could not dance, walk far distances, or walk with any speed.  I believe he frequently had pain as well.   That was the physical part that I as a child knew.  I am sure there was some emotional pain as well, some bitterness.  He rarely spoke of it.”

In 1979, Rotary International began its fight against polio with a multi-year project to immunize 6 million children in the Philippines. Since then, along with our partners, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Health Organization, we have immunized more than 2.5 billion children in 122 countries. As a result, we have reduced Polio cases by 99.9 percent worldwide and saved over 1.5 million lives. More than one million Rotarians have contributed over two billion dollars and countless volunteer hours to keep our promise of a Polio-free world for children everywhere.

Through this effort, a vast network of health care workers, laboratories and distribution channels for medicine and supplies were put in place. These resources have already been used to combat other deadly diseases, including Ebola. Now, as the world awaits the development of a coronavirus vaccine, these volunteers are performing contact tracing, along with sample collection, analysis and testing, and they’re communicating with populations in some of the most remote areas of our planet. Once a vaccine is made available, this same network is preparing to rapidly inoculate large numbers of people across the globe.

Rotary Club President Kathy Wilfert commented, “The good work of Westborough Rotary includes our annual scholarships, youth leadership awards, supporting the Youth & Family Services Holiday Store, lighting the downtown during the holidays, and co-sponsoring programs to address substance use and other mental health issues.  And during this pandemic, we’ve provided thousands of pieces of PPE gear to hospitals and first responders.”

Join club members at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 24, for a virtual update on the status of Rotary’s End Polio Now program. For details on how to participate in this free program, or to donate, please visit westboroughrotary.org or our check out the club’s Facebook page.