While many think polio is a “dead” disease, the Rotary Club of Marina Pattaya reminded people that it remains a threat that will take US$17 billion to eradicate.
Speaking at a recent World Polio Day seminar, Past President Olivier Meyer noted the role that Rotary International has played over the decades in raising money for polio vaccinations and victims.
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Dr. Meyer told the Rotarians gathered at the Royal Cliff Hotel about the history of the disease, symptoms, and its paralyzing and even deadly effects. He said that Poliomyelitis is a virus disease, highly contagious through the fecal-oral route. 95% of infections are asymptomatic, 5% show fever, headache, vomiting and diarrhoea, 0.1% of all cases lead to paralytic poliomyelitis, asymmetric paralysis of arms, legs plus respiratory muscles. Supportive treatment is rest and respiratory assistance.
He went on to say that a major breakthrough came in 1952 when Dr Jonas Salk (US) began to develop the first effective vaccine against polio (IPV). 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 (US) pioneered the more easily administered oral polio vaccine (OPV).
In 1979, Rotary International committed to providing OPV to six million children in the Philippines. In 1985, Rotary worked with Dr. Sabin on a plan to immunize all children against polio. The PolioPlus program was born.
That same year the Universal Childhood Immunization Initiative was launched jointly by UNICEF and WHO. Rotary pledged USD 120 million to its PolioPlus program. At that time there were 350,000 new cases of polio each year in 125 countries with thousands of deaths and disabilities, which amounted to about 1,000 new cases every day.
In 1994, polio was eradicated from the Americas. Shortly after, many countries, including the Western Pacific region from Australia to China, were declared polio-free in 2000.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation pledged $355 million in 2009 to help eradicate polio and in 2011, Rotary’s funding for polio eradication exceeded USD 1 billion.
In Thailand, the last case was reported in Loei province in 1997. The World Health Organization certified the south-east Asian region polio-free on March 27, 2014, after years without a single new case being reported. Africa was declared polio-free mid-2020.
Polio has been all but eradicated with only 17 cases since 2017. It remains active in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.
This year, due to the Corona-19 pandemic, Pakistan had to halt their immunisation program for children causing an alarming increase in polio infections.
Rotarians continue to contribute funds and have so far contributed $1.9 billion and countless volunteer hours to protect 2.5 billion children from polio in the last 30 years. Rotary advocacy efforts have also played a role in decisions by governments to contribute more than $8 billion to the effort. Thanks to the joint efforts of Rotary, UNICEF and WHO, polio decreased 99.9% from 350,000 cases a year in 125 countries to a little over 100 cases in two countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The United Nations’ World Health Organisation warns, however, that as long as there is one active case anywhere, children worldwide remain at risk. Failure to eradicate polio could result in as many as 200,000 new cases every year, within ten years, all over the world.
Dr. Meyer said total eradication is estimated to cost $17 billion.