LETTER from MICHAEL JEROME
Editor’s Note: Michael Jerome of Cooperstown chairs the Polio Plus Committee of the Rotary E-Club of Global Trekkers, a role he played for years at the Cooperstown club.
Sixty years ago, every parent in the western world feared their child would be afflicted with the crippling disease of polio.
Vaccines developed by Drs. Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin enabled the U.S., Canada and several European countries to become polio free by the early 1990s.
Health officials at the time understood that as long as the polio virus exists anywhere in the world, the chance of its transmission elsewhere is highly probable; possibly resulting in the reemergence of the disease in previously polio-free areas.
The idea of eliminating polio from the globe took hold.
This inspiration caused leaders of Rotary International in 1979 to begin a multi-year effort to immunize millions of children in the Philippines. The success of this project inspired Rotary to make a promise to the world to eradicate polio worldwide.
Rotary International and its partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) have made great strides since 1988 in the sustained effort. Polio cases have dropped by 99.9 percent, from 350,000 cases in 1988 in 125 countries to only 176 cases of wild poliovirus in 2019 in just two countries: Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In August 2020, the World Health Organization declared the Africa region – all 47 countries – free of the wild poliovirus, a major milestone towards Rotary’s goal. In impoverished parts of the world, the wild poliovirus still exists. Thus, the chance of its transmission elsewhere by travelers remains highly probable.
Rotary and its GPEI partners remain optimistic. As reported in a recent issue of The Rotarian magazine, the legacy of this campaign is “more than eradicating a deadly disease from the planet, it’s also building a stronger health system that provides better access to lifesaving interventions for the world’s most vulnerable children.”
The valuable lessons learned from the polio eradication efforts have been utilized to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has temporarily halted all global vaccination efforts.
Research facilities built for disease analysis, polio program infrastructures and partnerships, and surveillance systems designed to locate infected persons are currently being used by local health care workers to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
With polio nearly eradicated, Rotary and its partners remain optimistic and intend to reach every child with the polio vaccine. Full funding and political commitment are needed to ensure that this paralyzing disease does not return to polio-free countries, putting children everywhere at risk.
Rotary has committed to raise $50 million each year to support global polio eradication efforts. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation pledged to match those funds 2-to-1, for a total yearly contribution of $150 million.
Please join millions who are working to raise awareness and funds to end the debilitating scourge of polio, a vaccine-preventable disease.
I urge you to reflect on your good fortune to live in a polio-free country and contribute to the global effort to End Polio Now by visiting endpolio.org and click on “Donate.” Thank you!