By Alanna Shepard

The 6th Annual World Polio Day is October 24, 2018. One of the primary focuses of Rotary International is the eradication of the polio virus. There are three variations of the virus, the few cases of wild poliovirus that we see now are all type 1. The last case of type 2 was in 1999, and the world was certified type 2 free in 2015. The last case of type 3 poliovirus was in 2012. The virus mostly infects children under the age of five because they are the least likely to be fully vaccinated. There is no cure and 1 in 200 polio infections leads to irreversible paralysis. In the past 30 years, the world has gone from 125 polio-endemic countries to only two, a 99.9% worldwide reduction of cases. In 2018 there are only 18 new cases reported in these two countries, Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Nigeria is in its second year toward the three years without wild polio virus that are required for a country to be certified polio free. Without the eradication efforts of Rotary International since 1988, 17.4 million currently healthy people would have been paralyzed with polio.

From 2010 to 2017, the Rotary Foundation awarded nearly $700 million in PolioPlus grants. Vaccines are largely covered by other donors, so Rotary provides funds to cover the gaps. Research ($16.6 million), surveillance ($72.5 million), technical assistance ($132 million), social mobilization ($141.4 million), vaccines ($20.4 million) and operational support ($308 million) are funded in part by the Rotary Foundation. Rotary has pledged $50 million per year for three years to help fund the effort to reach Polio-free certification (the total interruption of the wild polio virus for three years). The Gates Foundation has pledged to match ALL donations to Rotary 2:1 for ending polio.

Rotary and its partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) have worked to reach 430 million children in 39 countries during polio immunization campaigns in 2017. Rotary International is the Advocate and its partners in GPEI consist of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (The Largest Private Funder), US Centers for Disease Control (The Virus Hunters), UNICEF (The Immunizers) and the World Health Organization (The Strategists).

An article in the October 2018 issue of ROTARIAN magazine profiled a young Rotaractor in Uganda, Patience Asiimwe, who worked with a Rotary vaccination team in the mountain community of Tapac, an 8-hour drive from her home in Kampala, Uganda.

Asiimwe works for the Uganda Cancer Society but joined Rotaract in 2016 at age 21 following a suggestion by her mother Margaret Okello, a member of the Rotary Club of Kampala Naguru. In November 2017, she took a week off from her job in order to vaccinate children against the polio virus. During this expedition, a film crew documented the immunization effort for Rotary’s newest virtual reality film, Two Drops of Patience that can be viewed on Rotary International’s website, rotary.org.

There is no electricity in the Tapac area, but luckily solar panels were donated to run the refrigerator, since the polio vaccination has to be kept cool. The team was taught how to vaccinate the children without contaminating the vial. Because of a history of violent conflict among tribes, the village people were suspicious of everyone. The team had to move with the nurse familiar to the village because she spoke their native language, and the parents of the children had to be convinced that the vaccine was going to help their child, not harm them. While Asiimwe was initially nervous that she would make a mistake, her unease turned into awe because when the two drops were placed in the mouth of a child, she knew its life was changed for the better.

“It is essential that we maintain the momentum for the complete eradication of polio in the world. We are very very close, but until every country is certified polio free and there are no more new cases of wild polio, there remains the real danger that it can come roaring back” said Judy Neveau, Polio Chair for Rotary District 5280 in Southern California.

The goal is a 100% polio-free world! We’re almost there. Let’s do our part to vanquish the virus. If you want to get involved in the END POLIO NOW Campaign, please visit rotary.org for more information.

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