STERNBERG: World Polio Day Celebrated Next Week

Column by Richard Sternberg M.D.

World Polio Day
Celebrated Next Week

October 24 is World Polio Day, an international commemoration of the efforts to eliminate poliomyelitis in the entire world, recognize those fighting the disease, and bring awareness to the public of the danger of the disease and how they can help to end it. The eradication of polio is, or maybe better to say was, in the last mile of a marathon, but complacency and a decreased emphasis on eradicating it has put at risk the end goal of a polio-free world.

We discussed the current outbreak of polio on August 25 and September 15 of this year in my column and in a piece by Michael Jerome on October 19, 2019. These articles can be found on allotsego.com by searching for “polio.”

There are several reasons that the efforts of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative are seeing a setback in 2022. The World Health Organization has seen a block of its efforts and uptick in the number of cases worldwide and the first incident of a case in almost 20 years in the United States. In order to eliminate polio, it is estimated that it is necessary to have at least a 90 percent vaccination rate in every community though the closer to 100 percent, the higher the probability of fully achieving this goal.

Reasons for this uptick include complacency and the denial or refusal of some groups to get vaccinated and the decrease in vaccination rates due to delays related to COVID. Other infectious diseases, like diphtheria, typhoid, and tetanus also had upticks due to decreased vaccination rates. Another reason is the antipathy in some areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan to allow any vaccination of children and adults organized by western countries. Also, the use of the oral vaccine in most of the world allows the risk that the vaccine will mutate and become more virulent. The killed virus vaccine cannot mutate which is why, though it must be injected, it cannot spread.

The battle against polio has been led by several organizations including the GPEI. In 1988, the GPEI was formed to coordinate efforts of the various groups involved in fighting polio and today includes six prime organizations the World Health Organization, Rotary International, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Gavi, the vaccine alliance. Its goal is to eradicate polio worldwide.

Efforts began to prevent polio in the United States and the industrialized world in the late 1950s. In the 1970s, widespread vaccination with the oral, attenuated virus vaccine was aggressively carried out in undeveloped countries.
In 1938, the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis was founded by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the name was changed to the March of Dimes after a very successful fund-raising campaign initiated by the comedian/entertainer Eddie Cantor. March of Dimes sponsored Jonas Salk’s original research. Today its mission is to battle all birth defects and infant mortality.

In 1985, Rotary International launched Polio Plus, its program to eradicate polio, which has been the largest component of its charitable work worldwide. This program has raised more than $2 billion, contributed countless volunteer hours, and has immunized over three billion children in 122 countries per the WHO.

What can you do on World Polio Day? First, educate yourself further on polio. Good websites include polioeradication.org, endpolio.org, cdc.gov, polioeradication.org and gatesfoundation.org. Second, donate to the effort. If so inclined, donations made through endpolio.org are tripled by the Gates Foundation.


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