Journal and Gazette Rotary Clubs help eradicate polio

For more than 30 years Rotarians world-wide have been waging war on polio.

Monday, 15th January 2018, 2:40 pm
Updated Monday, 15th January 2018, 2:46 pm
Eradicating polio...has been a mission for Rotary Clubs for more than 30 years and, with only 10 cases last year, its now well within touching distance.

And they are now moving ever closer to eradicating the disease entirely.

Since the organisation and its partners launched the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in 1988, the incidence of polio has plummeted by more than 99.9 percent.

Cases have dropped from 350,000 a year in 125 countries to just 37 cases in 2016 in three remaining polio-endemic countries – Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.

Even if the last case of polio is witnessed this year, it takes three years for a country to be declared polio-free so the campaign still has a way to go.

Last year, only 10 cases were reported and the optimism of eradicating the virus entirely is such that Bill Gates, whose charitable foundation is backing the campaign, even forecast recently that the world would this year see its last case of polio.

Rotary Clubs, both locally and globally, are playing their part in the final push to ward off polio forever.

South Queensferry Rotary Club has been at the forefront of fundraising for the End Polio Now campaign in District 1020 for many years now.

And its members will once again be raising funds and awareness this year.

Even if the last case of polio is witnessed this year, it takes three years for a country to be declared polio-free so the campaign still has a way to go.

Secretary Craig MacKenzie said: “In October and November, we planted around 5000 crocus corms in front of the High School playing fields.

“School pupils and Friends of Ferry Glen lent a hand with the planting so we’re all hoping for a colourful display this year.

“We’ve also put a little sign up so that people understand why there is a carpet of crocuses there.”

The purple blooms were chosen as part of the Purple4Polio campaign, a reference to the colour of the dye placed on the little finger of a child’s left hand to show they have been immunised against polio.

With millions of children to vaccinate, this makes it easier to see who has been protected and who has not.

South Queensferry Rotary Club members also usually organise a swimarathon at Queensferry High School in February to raise more funds for the polio campaign.

Last year, this event alone raised £400.

However, members are planning something different for 2018.

Craig said: “We’ve held the swimarathon for a number of years and it has been a very popular event.

“However, we’re hoping to do something different this year – although we’ve yet to agree what that will be.

“Watch this space!”

In the past, club members have held Purple Pinkie Days at local schools which have also been a big success, helping to raise awareness as well as funds for the campaign.

And at their meetings, members hold a raffle which raises around £80 each week for the Rotary Foundation, which also donates money to End Polio Now.

Craig added: “It’s exciting that we’re getting close to eradicating polio.

“We may even have got there sooner had it not been for conflicts in the countries which are still affected.

“However, we can’t say it’s completely eradicated until each country has been polio-free for three years – so we’ve still got work to do yet.”

Linlithgow and Bo’ness Rotary Club members also gave the campaign an extra push last year.

Ricky Kerr, publicity officer, said: “Rotary International uses a part of the money from each member’s annual subscription fee to fund End Polio Now.

“Our 37 members also donated an additional £15 each in 2017.

“There are 55,000 men and women who are members of more than 1850 Rotary clubs in the UK and Ireland so scaling that up you get an idea of the contribution that comes from the UK.”

Rotary globally has committed to raising £40 million per year over the next three years in support of global polio eradication efforts.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which became involved with Rotary’s campaign in 2003, will match Rotary’s commitment by 2:1, so every £1 donated by the public becomes £3.

The danger is that, without this co-ordinated campaign, funding and political commitment, this paralysing disease could return to previously polio-free countries, including the UK, and put more children at risk once again.

But everywhere there’s a Rotary, members are involved and, ultimately, they’ll all be able to hold their hands up and say that they’ve helped eradicate polio ...not something many can claim.

Polio: a life-changing illness

Although it used to be common in the UK, cases of the disease reduced drastically after routine vaccination against it was introduced in the 1950s and there have been no cases caught in the UK since the 1990s.

The infection is still found in some parts of the world, however, and there is still a small risk that it could be brought back to the UK.

Most people with polio do not show symptoms and will not know that they are infected, but for up to one in 100 it can have devastating consequences and lead to temporary or even permanent paralysis, which can be life-threatening.

There is currently no cure for polio which is why Rotary worldwide has taken up the cause to vaccinate as many people as possible.

It can be transmitted by coming into contact with the faeces of an infected person or by airborne transmission when they cough and sneeze.

Polio often passes quickly without causing any other problems, however, it can sometimes lead to persistent or lifelong difficulties and around one in every 200 people with the infection will have some degree of permanent paralysis.

Others may be left with problems that require long-term treatment and support including muscle weakness, shrinking of the muscles, tight joints and deformities such as twisted feet or legs.

Someone who has already had polio can also develop similar symptoms again, or worsening of their existing symptoms, many years later.

Other areas declared polio-free include Europe, the Americas, the western Pacific region and southeast Asia.

But polio is still a significant problem in Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan, with a risk of infection in other parts of Africa and some Middle Eastern countries.