World Polio Day is commemorated on October 24 of every year when Rotary clubs around the world organize events to create awareness about the scourge of this dreaded disease and how everyone can help eradicate it.
This year, the Rotary Clubs of Pattaya Marina, Dolphin Pattaya International and Jomtien-Pattaya combined forces to organize an ‘End Polio Now’ dinner to raise funds for the Rotary Foundation to continue their work to immunize children under the age of five in every part of the world with the polio vaccines.
The seminar was held in the Head of State Chamber of the Royal Cliff Grand Hotel on Sunday, October 24, 2021. Rotary dignitaries attending included District 3340 R.I. Governor Jareesri Kunsiripunyo and Past district Governor Jason Lim in his capacity as District Governors’ Special Representative – Indo China and Regional Rotary Foundation Co-coordinator 2020-22, Region 12.
Organizing Rotary clubs were represented by President Dr. Olivier Meyer, Rotary Club Pattaya Marina, President Chanunda Kongphol, Rotary Club of Dolphin Pattaya International and President Ray Whitley, Rotary Club of Jomtien-Pattaya and their respective members and guests.
President Dr. Olivier Meyer of the Rotary Club Pattaya Marina gave a very informative presentation and talk on polio saying, “The word poliomyelitis originates from the Greek word ‘polio’ meaning ‘grey;’ ‘myelon’ meaning ‘marrow or spinal cord’ and ‘…it is’ meaning inflammation. It is an infectious disease caused by the poliovirus, a member of the genus Enterovirus.
“We found on a mortuary stele an image of a priest with typical polio leg deformity which dates from the reign of Amenhotep II, circa 1400 BC. It is the oldest known representation in the world of poliomyelitis – 3,500 years.”
Dr. Olivier went on to explain: “Poliomyelitis (polio) is a virus, highly contagious through the fecal-oral route, meaning that the virus is spread via sick people’s feces, contaminating other people with food or water. 95% of infections are asymptomatic; 5% show fever, headache, vomiting and diarrhea; and 0.1% of all cases lead to paralytic poliomyelitis – asymmetric paralysis of arms, legs and respiratory muscles. Most cases are seen in infants aged less than five years. The only treatment is supportive: rest and respiratory assistance if needed.
“A breakthrough came in 1952 when Dr Jonas Salk began to develop the first effective vaccine against polio. Mass public vaccination programs followed and had an immediate effect; in the US alone cases fell from 35,000 in 1953 to 5,300 in 1957. In 1957, Dr. Albert Sabin pioneered the more easily administered oral polio vaccine.
“In 1985, Rotary worked with Dr. Sabin on a plan to immunize all children against polio. The PolioPlus program was born. Then the Universal Childhood Immunization Initiative was launched jointly with UNICEF and WHO. At that time there were 350,000 new polio cases each year in 125 countries with thousands of deaths and disabilities equaling 1,000 new cases a day. Nowadays, there is a 99.9% reduction of new cases found in two countries only, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“Rotarians have contributed $2.2 billion and countless volunteers-hours in the past 30 years to protect three billion children in the world from polio. Rotary advocacy efforts have played a role in decisions by governments to contribute more than $10 billion to the effort.
“Rotary has committed to raise $50 million a year for polio eradication. Since 2013, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has pledged to match that 2-to-1 for a total of $150 million a year. The eradication program will require total funding of $17 billion for the world to be certified polio-free.”
In closing, Dr. Olivier stressed in no uncertain terms, “The vaccination against polio must continue, otherwise the virus will reappear!”
The presentation was conducted in English with simultaneous translation into Thai by Past District Governor Pratheep ‘Peter’ Malhotra.
To stress the dangers and tragedy that polio can cause, two very special guests, Ms. Saijai Sakulwongthana and Ms. Sudarat Chanmuang, were invited up to the stage. In an emotional interview with PDG Peter, both wheelchair-bound women told the tragic story of how unknowingly they were infected with the dreaded polio disease when they were young and how they had to endure the hardships of daily life, trying to get an education and how they painstakingly got to where they are today.
Against all odds, the two brave young ladies struggled through their childhood, handicapped by the poliovirus inside their bodies, until finally through their own fighting spirit and determination they now have good office jobs at the Father Ray Foundation in Pattaya.
Watching the proceedings via ZOOM was Past Rotary International Vice President Mike McGovern from his home in the USA, who took the opportunity to speak to the Rotarians. He said, “From the earliest days of polio eradication in the Philippines, the generosity and advocacy of Rotarians and our partners have nearly stopped polio, stopped Ebola from becoming an epidemic in Nigeria and now responds to Covid-19.
“The Polio Oversight Board made the hard decision to pause house to house vaccinations knowing that this may lead to an increase in polio cases. Polio surveillance will continue while also supporting Covid-19 surveillance. The GPEI is working to ensure that once it is safe to do so, countries can be supported to rapidly resume polio immunization campaigns. We will have a message in every country that vaccines, including the polio vaccine, stop viruses from attacking children and adults. We must seize the moment to let every village understand that the polio vaccine saves lives.
“For over 40 years, Rotarians have never wavered in fulfilling our commitment to the children of the world to end polio. Today, in contributing to PolioPlus we are also addressing this evil Covid-19 pandemic. The goals this year for contributions to PolioPlus have not changed. The opportunity to do good in the world has only increased.”
Two Rotary Club Pattaya Marina members, PP Michel M Roche and Daniel Leon Dandoy, were presented with Paul Harris Fellow recognitions. PDG Peter explained the significance of the recognitions saying, “Paul Harris Fellow recognition means that a contribution was made to The Rotary Foundation, which administers Rotary’s polio eradication program and other humanitarian and educational initiatives. Rotary’s commitment to eradicate polio is unprecedented.
“Michel and Daniel, you have set an example for many by your contributions to your community. Your personal involvement makes our community a better place in which to live. This fellowship was named after Paul Harris who founded Rotary in 1905. The symbolism in this recognition is to say Thank You for making a difference in our community and in the lives of less fortunate people in the world.”
As part of the fundraising activities, a raffle was held followed by a fashion show. Graceful dignitaries pranced the catwalk in their most elegant dresses. Of course, they all had to pay a fee for the opportunity to show off their modeling skills. Throughout the evening End Polio Now T-shirts, coffee mugs and lapel pins were on sale.
World-class entertainment was provided by ‘The Steep’ performed by Rotarian Rolf Ruegg and renowned veterans of the world music scene. As soon as the music began, the dance floor was packed, and fun and laughter filled the ballroom until the bewitching hour when everyone had to rush home to beat the curfew.
All in all, the organizers are proud and happy to announce that a handsome sum of 132,290 baht was raised, which will be contributed to The Rotary Foundation for the PolioPlus program.
Rotarians, families and friends contributed tremendously to a meaningful yet fun filled event to raise funds to ‘END POLIO NOW”.