Rotary Club celebrates as Africa declared free from wild polio

The Rolla Daily News

Rotary Club members across southwest Missouri are celebrating the news that the African region has been certified wild poliovirus-free. 

Rotary members have joined others worldwide to play an invaluable role in the decades-long effort to rid the African region of wild polio. Rotary’s District 6080, which includes 51 clubs in southwest Missouri, has contributed almost half a million dollars in the last five years, alone, to Rotary’s End Polio Now campaign, according to District Gov. Jacqueline Howard, of Waynesville. Worldwide funding has come from Rotary International, the CDC, WHO, UNICEF and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The news from Africa will be celebrated when Rotary clubs worldwide and across southwest Missouri observe World Polio Day on Oct. 24.

This milestone is the result of widespread efforts across the 47 countries of the African region. It has involved millions of health workers traveling by foot, boat, bike and bus, innovative strategies to vaccinate children amid conflict and insecurity, and a huge disease surveillance network to test cases of paralysis and check sewage for the virus.

Polio usually affects children under the age of 5, sometimes leading to irreversible paralysis. Death can occur when breathing muscles are affected, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

"The eradication of wild polio in the African region shows us that polio eradication is achievable, and shows how our hard work, partnerships and financial commitment continue to propel us forward, even during a global pandemic," said District 6080 End Polio Now Chair Susan Haralson.

Rotarians continue to work on the final challenge: eradicate the wild poliovirus in the two countries where the disease has never been stopped: Afghanistan and Pakistan. They vow not to stop the campaign until the last case of polio has been recorded.  If efforts stop now, officials say, the world can expect to see over 200,000 new cases of polio in the next 10 years.