By Bill Cawley, West Point Rotary Club President
10:08 AM EDT, October 23, 2013
Polio eradication partners around the world will be marking October 24th as the first World Polio Day since India was removed from the list of countries with active transmission of wild poliovirus. This development opened up a historic opportunity to complete polio eradication in the remaining endemic countries, powered by the World Health Assembly declaration of an "emergency for global public health" and implemented through national emergency programs run by the governments of Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. Since World Polio Day last year, the number of new cases of polio has declined (from 467 at this time last year to 171 this year).
Polio anywhere is a risk to children everywhere. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is committed to fighting the disease until every child is safe. This is our chance to make history by wiping out the second human disease ever. Globally, we are "this close" to ending polio. Since the global initiative began more than 25 years ago, Rotary and its partners have reduced polio cases by more than 99 percent worldwide. There are only three countries where the wild polio virus has never been stopped: Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.
Rotary has raised more than $1 billion dollars and committed countless volunteer hours to fight the disease. But, you might be thinking that 99% is a good rate of success. So, why end polio now? There are several reasons beginning with the human cost. If we don't end polio now, experts say the disease could rebound to 10 million cases in the next 40 years. It's achievable. There is no cure for polio, but the polio vaccine successfully prevents cases. Success in polio eradication sets the stage for the next big global health initiative. And finally, it's a good investment. The world has invested $9 billion dollars toward polio eradication and an independent study published in the medical journal Vaccine estimates the net economic benefits at $40 to 50 billion over the next 20 years-a savings that can be put toward fighting other diseases. The infrastructure for polio immunization also strengthens the systems for other health interventions.
These are the reasons Rotary and Rotarians worldwide have committed so much time, money, and effort to finally rid this dreaded crippler of children from the face of the earth. Don't be fooled though. Polio is a deadly and cunning virus. The last 1% is not going away easily. Unless we eradicate this enemy of little children and families forever, it will return. Talk to your friends and neighbors about what it was like in the 1950s in the U.S. when the polio vaccine had not yet been discovered. You probably have a polio survivor in your own neighborhood. Ask them about the iron lung, the many wheel chairs and crutches that became the legs and feet of their siblings and playmates. Ask them what it was like to live under a cloud of dread, knowing this horrible menace could strike them or their family members at any time. Listen to their stories and then you will know what so many families in the three polio endemic countries are living through today-25 years after polio was eradicated from the U.S.
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