World Polio Day, this Sunday, may not seem significant to many Americans. It has been more than half-a-century since the terrifying summers when kids in this country could not go to swimming pools, movie theaters or birthday parties without their parents fearing they would contract this crippling and sometimes fatal disease.
Oct. 24 marks the birth of Jonas Salk, who was the leader of the team that invented a polio vaccine in 1955. In 1988, Albert Sabin developed an oral polio vaccine.
Polio, which can cause lifelong paralysis, can be prevented with a vaccine that costs only sixty cents. In the 1980s, polio paralyzed at least 1,000 children every day all over the world, but today, after international efforts to
Polio survivor Ramesh Ferris will speak Sunday at the high school
immunize every child everywhere, 5 million people are walking who would otherwise be paralyzed and the world is almost polio-free.
The success is the result of an improved vaccine and the intense efforts over the past several years by the Global Polio Eradication Partnership, a partnership that includes Rotary International, the UN Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, UNICEF, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and WHO. Since the Initiative`s inception in 1988, the number of polio cases has dropped by 99 percent. Since the beginning of Rotary`s PolioPlus campaign, more than two billion children have received the oral polio vaccine. Incidents of polio have dropped from 350,000 a year to fewer than 2,000, and the number of polio-endemic countries has dropped from 125 in 1985 to only 4 today -- India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.
After 20 years of hard work, Rotary and its partners are on the brink of eradicating polio, but a strong push is needed now to root it out once and for all. Although tremendous progress has been made, the world is not yet polio-free. The poliovirus knows no borders; it can spread from an endemic country into polio-free areas. As long as one case of polio remains in the world, no child is safe from this deadly disease.
The greatest challenge in the battle against polio today is financial. Despite the enormous resources already committed, more money is urgently needed to reach the children in the four remaining polio-endemic countries.