Stroud column: Still just ‘this close’ to eradicating polio worldwide
Today, Oct. 24, is World Polio Day. It’s a day that strikes a personal chord for me and for Rotarians around the world — and especially for anyone who’s been impacted personally by polio.
For 30 years, Rotary International has been on the leading edge in the effort to eradicate polio, as a founding partner of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.
Through Rotary’s Polio Plus campaign, Rotary clubs around the world — including those in Glenwood Springs, Rifle, Carbondale, Snowmass Village and Aspen — have combined forces to contribute more than $1.9 billion toward ridding the world of this terrible, crippling disease.
Not only does that money go toward providing the vaccinations, it helps to put boots on the ground as Rotarians work in the field to make sure children are inoculated and protected.
Currently, for every dollar now donated to the effort, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will double that amount up to a $50 million match.
It’s huge, and it’s a big reason why we’re “this close,” as Rotarians and polio eradication advocates around the world are fond of reminding each other by flashing a hand gesture with a small gap between an extended thumb and index finger.
But that gap hasn’t been shrinking as much lately as we would like.
According to the latest reports, there were three new cases of wild poliovirus in Pakistan in the past month. For the year, there have so far been 72 cases reported in Pakistan and 16 in Afghanistan. Those countries, in particular, pose some serious obstacles because of politics, prejudice and social resistance to vaccinations.
“While it is disheartening to go backward, remember that as recently as 2014, Pakistan had over 300 cases a year,” notes Ken Howell, our Rotary region’s End Polio Now coordinator. “Our progress may not prove to be as linear as we’d like, but we are making significant progress.”
In August alone, Pakistan immunized 8.3 million children, with over 260,000 frontline workers, according to Ken’s report.
There’s more cause for celebration this World Polio Day. The Global Commission for the Certification of Poliomyelitis Eradication is prepared to announce the eradication of the Type 3 polio virus.
Type 2 polio has already been declared eradicated, so we’re down to just Type 1.
For the record, polio virus invades the nervous system and can cause total paralysis in hours. It can strike people of any age, but mainly affects children younger than age 5. Polio is not curable but, unlike most diseases, it can be eradicated.
So, here’s where it gets a little more personal for me, and local as it relates to our own communities here in the Roaring Fork Valley and Garfield County.
I was disheartened when we reported last spring that childhood vaccination rates among school children are disturbingly low in some sectors of our local community.
Overall, area schools report an immunization rate of between 93 and 96 percent for measles, mumps, rubella (MMR), polio and diphtheria, which is good but not great. The opt-out rate for some families is cause for concern — especially when I see polio in the mix.
Please, I ask any of you who have doubts to learn more at rotary.org, and consider the consequences if we take too many steps backward, especially in a country where we’ve not known polio for decades.
By not vaccinating your children, you’re not only exposing them to the risk of contracting polio and other diseases, you’re denying that future adult the opportunity to be a Rotarian out in the field fighting polio, only because they’re not protected.
Now, that’s personal.
John Stroud is senior reporter and managing editor for the Post Independent, and the 2019-20 president for the Rotary Club of Carbondale.
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