The jour­ney to end po­lio now

The Amherst News - - OP-ED - Leslie Childs Morris Haugg is a long­time mem­ber of the Amherst Ro­tary Club and is a mem­ber of the Amherst News Com­mu­nity Ed­i­to­rial Panel.

A friend of mine is dy­ing of can­cer. He is in his 70s and he has had a good and suc­cess­ful life.

I have al­ways ad­mired him be­cause he has man­aged all of life’s chal­lenges as a per­son who is dis­abled. When a child, po­lio crip­pled both of his legs.

He did well in school. He was em­ployed as a civil ser­vant for more than 40 years. There he had a desk job and didn’t need two strong healthy legs. He mar­ried a beau­ti­ful woman and they raised three suc­cess­ful chil­dren. He also kept his fa­ther’s small farm go­ing - horses, cat­tle, trac­tors. He did what was nec­es­sary with the aid of crutches or walk­ing canes. He was a com­mu­nity leader serv­ing in ex­ec­u­tive po­si­tions of var­i­ous clubs and or­ga­ni­za­tions. Now he has only a few weeks to live.

So, I wrote him a let­ter. I told him how much I re­spected him all the years that I have known him, and I told him a good news story to cheer him up. I told him about Ro­tary’s Po­lio Plus cam­paign and the world-wide ef­fort to erad­i­cate the po­lio virus from the face of this Earth once and for all.

All the older read­ers of this ar­ti­cle will have known some­one who was or is still af­fected by po­lio, usu­ally con­tracted as a child. Younger peo­ple won’t know be­cause in Canada, po­lio has not been a prob­lem for sev­eral decades - not since the vac­cine was avail­able to pre­vent the disease from be­ing caught and be­ing spread.

Not long ago, I read in the his­tory sec­tion of a news­pa­per that all the schools in Toronto were closed in the 1930s be­cause of a po­lio out­break. Ac­cord­ing to a friend, who hails from Prince Ed­ward Is­land, this was done at a cer­tain time of the year where he

grew up. None­the­less, his sis­ter caught it. Their home was quar­an­tined. She died as a young girl. That was in the 40s or 50s.

For many decades since the found­ing of Ro­tary, clubs all over the world have pro­vided as­sis­tance to vic­tims of po­lio. They have pro­vided crutches, canes, wheel­chairs and pros­the­sis. The Amherst club switched from a “fresh air camp” to a crip­pled chil­dren’s camp. Some peo­ple still call it that.

It was a Ro­tar­ian who came up with the idea that in­stead of treat­ing the ef­fects of the disease, the disease needs to be con­trolled by mak­ing the oral vac­cine avail­able every­where, es­pe­cially in coun­tries that do not have a well-de­vel­oped health­care sys­tem. As a re­sult, more than a mil­lion Ro­tar­i­ans, from over 35,000 clubs all over the globe, pitched in to raise money for a cam­paign called Po­lio Plus. Since then, the num­bers of po­lio cases have dropped dra­mat­i­cally.

Then the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion got in­volved and the focus or goal changed from con­trol or re­duc­tion to erad­i­ca­tion of po­lio. With the help of WHO and UNICEF, the govern­ments of var­i­ous coun­tries and their health de­part­ments took up the chal­lenge. By 1994, the en­tire Western Hemi­sphere was po­lio free. The ef­forts con­tin­ued. Ro­tary clubs kept rais­ing mil­lions, but tens of thou­sands of mem­bers also vol­un­teered on im­mu­niza­tion days. The num­bers are stag­ger­ing. There is not enough space avail­able to share this suc­cess story in full. Here are some high­lights and ex­am­ples:

On a sin­gle day in April 1990, five mil­lion chil­dren were im­mu­nized at 6,000 sites all over South Amer­ica. In In­dia, 172 mil­lion chil­dren re­ceived the drops of vac­cine in one sin­gle day. Since Po­lio Plus be­gan in 1985, more than two bil­lion chil­dren have been im­mu­nized. Last year, 430 mil­lion chil­dren in 39 coun­tries re­ceived the vac­cine.

Un­for­tu­nately, there are three vari­a­tions of the po­lio virus and some re-im­mu­niza­tion is nec­es­sary. None­the­less, all but three coun­tries are to­tally free. With­out the erad­i­ca­tion ef­fort of Ro­tary and part­ners around the world, 17.4 mil­lion peo­ple, cur­rently healthy and un­af­fected, would have been par­a­lyzed. The num­ber of po­lio-en­demic coun­tries has shrunk from 125 in 1988 to three - Pak­istan, Afghanistan and Nige­ria. In th­ese coun­tries, hur­dles are thrown up by re­li­gion and po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity, but even there, the num­bers are way down and in the teens in­stead of thou­sands of cases.

Bill Gates and his foun­da­tion have be­come in­volved and have do­nated hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars to­wards this cause. He has per­son­ally par­tic­i­pated in ap­ply­ing the vac­cine drops to chil­dren.

This year is the 30th an­niver­sary of world Po­lio Day which was ob­served on Oct. 24.

It’s a won­der­ful suc­cess story. It’s not over, but it will be. I hope it has cheered up my dy­ing friend. It should cheer up every­body.

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