On October 24th, the world celebratedWorld Polio Day.  This recognition was established by Rotary International to commemorate the birth of Jonas Salk, the medical researcher who led the first team to develop a vaccine against polio. He developed the inactivated polio virus vaccine which came into use in 1955, after which Albert Sabine developed the oral vaccine that came into use in 1961.

World Polio Day has been observed for over a decade. It is a day to celebrate the great strides towards eradicating the Polio virus. We also use this day to thank the thousands of healthcare workers and volunteers who have worked tirelessly to vaccinate children, often at great risk to their lives.  BEL Rotarians joined Rotarians from the Peterborough and Kawartha Clubs to walk to raise awareness of polio.

Rotary has been working to eradicate polio for more than 35 years. As a founding partner of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, Rotary and its partners have reduced polio cases by more than 99.99 percent since the first project to vaccinate children in the Philippines in 1979.  At that time more than 125 countries were endemic and more than 350000 children a year succumbed to the scourge of this horrible disease.  Incredible progress has been made thanks to Rotary International, the World Health Organization and the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  Of the three wild polio viruses two have been eradicated.  Recently a new oral vaccine has been developed that does not mutate and therefore there is no vaccine derived polio.

Currently only two countries have the wild Polio virus, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pakistan has had only one confirmed case this year (compared to 84 in 2020). Of more importance they have not had any environmental samples come back with the virus since early August.  Afghanistan also has had only one confirmed case this year (compared to 56 in 2020) and no environmental samples have shown the virus since February. Both countries have committed to vaccinating their children. This includes the new government in Afghanistan. Afghanistan will allow women to be vaccinators. This is important because women are allowed inside homes while men who are not family members are not allowed to enter. While there is cautious optimism Afghanistan is still a very volatile nation with very fluid borders with Pakistan. Pakistan hopes to vaccinate a million children in December.

The infrastructure created by Rotary and its partners has not only reduced the incidence of polio in the world, but has also been used to help eradicate other chronic diseases such as Measles, Ebola and currently Covid-19.

The BEL Rotary Club has been a proud partner and contributor to this world wide effort.  Rotarians Brian and Dorothy Menton have travelled to Nigeria and Pakistan to deliver the lifesaving drops to children in rural and often unsafe areas.  In their words “No child should get Polio, there is a vaccine. We just need to get it to the children”.