By David Esteppe
Bluefield Rotarian Jim Ferguson spoke to the Lewisburg Rotary Club on Monday with an update on the status of polio in the world today. He was also there to remind the club that Rotary International’s number one goal is to eradicate the disease. “We are ‘This Close’,” said Ferguson, using the current mantra and name of the homestretch campaign for awareness.
Poliomyelitis (polio) is a paralyzing and potentially fatal disease that still threatens children in some parts of the world. The polio virus invades the nervous system and can cause total paralysis in a matter of hours. It can strike any age, but mainly affects children under five.
Polio is incurable, but completely vaccine-preventable.
In 1985, Rotary launched its PolioPlus program. This was the first initiative to tackle global polio eradication through the mass vaccination of children. Since then, Rotary has contributed more than $1.5 billion and countless volunteer hours to immunize more than 2.5 billion children in 122 countries. Rotary’s advocacy efforts have also played a role in donor governments contributing more than $9 billion to this effort.
In 1988, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) came to be and formed a public-private partnership with Rotary, the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and governments of the world.
Today, there are only two countries that have not stopped transmission of the wild poliovirus: Afghanistan and Pakistan. Polio cases have decreased by over 99 percent since 1985. The remaining 1 percent is proving to be the most difficult to prevent. Factors include geographical isolation, poor public infrastructure, armed conflict and cultural barriers. Until polio is eradicated, all countries remain at risk of outbreak.
The “This Close” campaign has every dollar Rotary commits to polio eradication being matched two-to-one by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, up to $35 million annually through 2018.
According to Ferguson, the world saw less than 100 new polio cases in 2015. The GPEI says that some of these cases in 2015, and historically as well, have been vaccine-derived polioviruses (VDPs). In April 2016. 155 countries will begin using a newer vaccine, eliminating the risk of VDPs. This is expected to have an impact on the progress towards achieving eradication.