Rotary members have been at the center of the worldwide effort to eradicate polio for more than three decades. Rotary launched PolioPlus in 1985 and helped found the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in 1988. At that time, wild poliovirus paralyzed hundreds of children every day, with an estimated 350,000 polio cases across more than 125 countries in one year. Since then, cases have plummeted more than 99.9%, sparing more than 20 million people from paralysis.
But as recent polio detections have revealed, polio remains a threat everywhere as long as it exists anywhere. In the days and weeks leading up to World Polio Day, 24 October, Rotary members around the world are holding events to raise awareness of the need to End Polio Now. Below are a few of those efforts.
By Dean Rohrs, Rotary Foundation Trustee and past RI vice president
A few years back, I was taking part in a polio immunization field trip in northern Nigeria, vaccinating children against the disease. After a dusty trip on non-existent roads right into the northern Nigeria countryside, I was dropped off under a tree with a Rotaractor translator, one other Rotary member, and the local polio immunization team. This is an area frequented by Boko Haram and although I grew up in Africa, and am adventurous, I wasn’t sure that I would ever be found again.
I was a typical, energetic four-year old in South Africa, running around our house with visions of my hero, long distance runner Jan Barnard, in my head when I felt something wrong. I ran inside and told my mother, “I have a dripping tap in my chest.” This was my way of describing what I felt, my heart skipping beats now and again. My mom, Christine, pressed an ear to my chest and called our general practitioner.
That would be the last day I would run imaginary races with Barnard. I had contracted spino-bulbar polio, which destroys neurons in the brainstem causing respiratory or cardiac failure. I was given less than a 2% chance of survival. This was in 1955, during a polio epidemic in South Africa, months before the Salk Vaccine was declared safe and effective.
By Phil and Joyce Ogden, Rotary Club of South Launceston, Tasmania, Australia
My wife Joyce and I enjoy tandem cycling. Two years ago, when I met somebody who had cycled the Nullarbor Plain in Australia, a seed was planted in the back of my mind that maybe this was a challenge for us to do in the future.
We are closer than ever to ending polio. We have reduced cases by 99.9% since 1988. With our partners, Rotary has immunized more than 2.5 billion children worldwide to end polio for good. But we’re not there yet and we can’t afford to be complacent.
Editor’s Note: Bob Rogers of the Rotary Club of Sebastopol, California, USA, and Greg Owen, Rotary Club of Long Beach, California, USA, both End Polio Now coordinators, came together to form a PolioPlus Society in their zones. The Society, which encourages automatic annual giving to Rotary’s PolioPlus fund, has been praised by senior Rotary Leaders as a model for others to follow.Rotary Voices talked to Rogers and Owen about the origins of the idea.
Q: How did you get the idea for a PolioPlus Society in your zones?
Bob Rogers: It was back in 2018 or 2019 and I was beginning my role as District 5130’s PolioPlus committee chair. Cort Vaughn, our End Polio Now coordinator, told me how District 5110 had formed a society several years earlier as a way to increase sustainable giving to the PolioPlus Fund. The original concept has been credited to Harriett Schloer of the Rotary Club of Bend High Desert in Oregon and her district governor, Dell Gray. Vaughn noted it had proved very successful and had been copied by other districts.