A friend of mine saw the Rotary End Polio sticker on the back of my car and asked, “Is polio coming back?”
He is old enough to remember the terrible scourge of polio during his youth in the 1950s, seeing family and acquaintances suddenly struck down and paralyzed by this terrible disease.
In the '50s there were more than 350,000 cases a year in the world, and then the miracle of the Salk and Sabin vaccines became available and everyone in the U.S. got immunized and in 1979 the United States was declared polio-free.
End of problem? Not quite. Polio continued to plague the rest of the world and especially third world countries.
In 1979 a group of Rotarians decided to try and see if they could make the Philippines polio-free and were successful.
This led to the greatest health initiative since the eradication of smallpox in the history of the world, with Rotary International teaming with the World Health Organization, UNESCO, the CDC, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 1985. The goal end date was 2015.
The scope and scale of the project almost defies imagination.
Every child in every village on the planet had to be immunized several times.
This required enormous resources from around the globe. Infrastructure for the delivery, preservation, and implementation of the program had to be developed. Huge numbers of volunteers we needed world over. Gradually great strides were made and by 2013 only Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria remained endemic for the disease.
Ironically, conflict areas are often the most difficult and costly, both in funds and lives, to finish the job.
This year there were only 88 cases of wild polio virus infections reported worldwide (all in Pakistan and Afghanistan) and the program still needs well over a billion dollars to finish this job.
Why spend so much on so few cases?
The answer is simple.
If we are not successful in eradicating this disease once and for all, it will return.
Only 10% of those infected get clinically ill, and only 10% of those clinically ill present with paralysis, yet all are infectious.
Fast global travel is increasingly common and this poses a real risk for a reemergence of polio across the globe.
End Polio Day around the world was observed Oct. 24.The End Polio logo has been projected on famous world sites around the world, such as the Pyramids, the Louvre, the Great Wall of China, the Wrigley Building in Chicago, and others, to promote ongoing funding to get this done. It was projected on the Dekalb County courthouse from Oct. 20-25, 2017.
Almost all nations have pledged large amounts of money to complete this great work, but we still need help from individuals.
If you ever suffered from polio, or had grandparents or friends afflicted, consider a donation to help finish the job. Ask them about it.
Famous people who were afflicted include President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Mia Farrow, Robert McNamara, Jack Nicklaus, Donald Sutherland, Francis Ford Coppola, Diana Shore and others.
Because of conflict zones the job was not completed as hoped on schedule, but the new goal is at the end of 2025.
You may help in this great effort by going online to endpolio.org to make a direct contribution, or contact any Rotarian in your community and they will be glad to help. A $100 donation will immunize and protect 60 children.
If you see Rotarians collecting for this cause please give what you can afford. Every little bit helps.
This world effort is so close to completing the task. Help us finish the job, please.
• Dr. Paul Stromborg is the End Polio Chairman for District 6420 of Rotary International, which includes DeKalb and Sycamore area clubs. He lives in Sycamore.