On Aug. 25, 2020, the World Health Organization announced that the wild poliovirus had been eliminated in 47 countries in the African region. This was a momentous milestone to reach and reflected the tremendous efforts and millions of dollars spent to achieve this goal. Afghanistan and Pakistan are the last harbors of the wild poliovirus to date.

So why is this so newsworthy? Polio or poliomyelitis is a paralyzing and sometimes fatal disease that can cause total paralysis in hours. It affects people of all ages, but particularly targets children less than five years old. Polio can be prevented by the administration of vaccines but it is not curable.

For over 30 years, Rotary and its partners have spearheaded the effort to eliminate polio worldwide. Rotary’s PolioPlus program was the first to take on global polio eradication by vaccinating children on a massive scale. In 1988, Rotary and its partners formed the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. At that time, 350,000 cases of polio were occurring every year. This rate has been reduced by 99.9% today. Because of the efforts of Rotary and its partners, almost 19 million people have avoided paralysis and over 1.5 million deaths have been prevented. Rotary members have donated more than $2.1 billion and countless volunteer hours to protect over 2.5 billion children in 122 countries.

The infrastructure for this massive effort is being used to prevent and treat other diseases, including Covid-19. Rotary members work with UNICEF and other partners to draft and distribute educational materials for people that are isolated by geography, conflict and poverty. They also recruit volunteers, help with transportation of the vaccine and facilitate other logistics.

The fight against polio is ongoing until the poliovirus is completely eradicated. Efforts continue to immunize over 400 million children each year. Disease surveillance systems remain active and more than 150,000 health workers go door to door to administer the vaccine. It is estimated that this global drive to eradicate polio has saved over $27 billion in health care costs since 1988 and $14 million more by 2050.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has joined the fight against polio and will match every dollar donated by Rotary for polio eradication 2-to-1 up to $50 million per year. Rotary clubs are encouraged to give $1,500 or more annually which results in a significant amount globally. For more information about Rotary’s role in this endeavor, go to endpolio.org.

Oct. 24 is World Polio Day. On this day and throughout the month of October, Rotary clubs worldwide will be hosting events to promote awareness and raise funds to eliminate polio. Social media messages, newspaper articles and vaccination campaigns are just some of the activities that will be occurring. The Rolla Breakfast Rotary Club will host a new event to promote polio awareness. The Pedal 2 End Polio bike rides will be held on Saturday, October 24th. Be sure to mark your calendar for this fun and family friendly event. Pre-registration for this event is encouraged by Oct. 12. All participant fees and proceeds will be donated to the Rotary End Polio Now Program. For more information, go to the Rolla Breakfast Rotary Club Facebook page. You can also access information about the event by going to: https://sites.google.com/view/rollabreakfastrotaryclub/home

Dr. Louise Wilkinson a retired pediatrician and member of the Rolla Breakfast Rotary Club.