BUCKHANNON – The Rotary Club of Buckhannon-Upshur recently celebrated World Polio Day. World Polio Day is celebrated on October 24, in honor and in memory of the birth of Jonas Salk, the researcher who developed the first polio vaccine in 1955.
For more than 35 years, Rotary clubs have worked to eradicate polio from around the world. Rotary is a founding partner of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, and as a result, they have reportedly reduced polio cases by 99.9% since their original 1979 project to vaccinate children in the Philippines. The success of the project led Rotary to make polio eradication a top priority, which led to the launch of its PolioPlus initiative. “Ending polio is the biggest effort Rotary has made in many years,” said Kathy McMurray, president of Rotary.
Rotarian Marty Kelley gave a presentation on Rotary’s efforts to eradicate polio. In 2016, as part of the preparation for the Near Heaven BBQ Bash event, Kelley wanted to promote Rotary’s contribution to polio eradication. Kelley met the late Dr. Lillian Halverson, who ran the dietetics program at West Virginia Wesleyan College, after her career as a professor of nutrition and dietetics. According to Kelley, Dr. Halverson suffered from polio and the effects of it were very evident in his daily life. From her personal research and time spent with Dr. Halverson, Kelley created a film that was streamed during the Almost Heaven BBQ Bash, with the help of a student at the WVWC. Kelley noted that it was wonderful to hear first-hand information about the polio virus.
Polio is more prevalent in other countries where vaccines are not readily available, nor required as is the case in the United States. Kelley mentioned that although polio existed in the 1800s, with the first documented case in 1789, there was not much anyone could do about it, and it wasn’t as prevalent back then, so it wasn’t There wasn’t that panic that would come later on. Polio has also affected almost exclusively children, although some adults have contracted it.
In 1921, Franklin D. Roosevelt contracted polio at the age of 39 to 20 years before Salk’s discovery. In 1937, Roosevelt established a National Foundation for Childhood Paralysis. At one point, they had 3,200 clubs, according to Kelley. This foundation did not receive federal funding and therefore had to create ways to raise funds. Artist Eddie Cantor, with the help of other big Hollywood stars, has created great fundraising events to help polio eradication efforts. Research exploded in the wake of these major fundraising events, and American ingenuity got to work, Kelley noted.
During the period 1887-1916, epidemics were documented in Stockholm, Vermont and New York. The epidemic in New York has left 6,000 dead and 27,000 disabled. In 1948, the American Jonas Salk found the breakthrough.
In 1954, mass vaccinations began, with 1.8 million children receiving vaccination by injection. In 1962—14 years later — Dr. Albert B. Sabin was successful with a live oral polio vaccine, which Kelley said simplified the vaccine distribution process. “The outcome of polio could have been totally different if the oral vaccine had not been successful,” she said. Kelley also noted that Dr Salk had the opportunity and refused to patent his creation because he said “he felt it belonged to all mankind.”
In 1994, the Americas were finally declared polio free. It took 46 years from Salk’s initial breakthrough. Rotary’s total contribution around 1994 exceeded $ 500 million, with only six countries with active polio cases. By 2000, 550 million people had received oral polio vaccine. In 2003, The Rotary Foundation raised $ 119 million in just 12 months for PolioPlus.
In 2006, polio was eradicated in all but four countries, including: Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Nigeria. However, over the past 7 years India and Nigeria have become polio free, leaving Afghanistan and Pakistan as the only countries infected with active polio. According to Kelley and other research, there are several reasons why Afghanistan and Pakistan have yet to eradicate the vicious virus. The biggest problems come from the lack of communication and the constant political instability. Several parts of these countries are also stricken by poverty and lack access to clean water and basic hygiene products, according to Kelley.
As of October 2021, 2.2 billion children had been vaccinated against polio. Rotary members have contributed more than $ 2.1 billion to this effort. As of July this year, there had been only two new cases of polio reported, one in Afghanistan and one in Pakistan. In Pakistan, around 7-8 million babies are born each year, requiring continuous vaccination efforts. For the year 2020, there were 959 cases worldwide.
The polio virus may return in unvaccinated children through environmental, nutritional, educational and political issues.
Kelley noted that her fellow Rotarians should feel pride in their hearts for their contribution to the eradication of the polio virus.