As long as polio exists, it can travel anywhere and threaten everyone.
THE world was reminded about the importance of polio vaccinations in the last two months after three children were found paralyzed in northern Nigeria — the country’s first polio cases in more than two years.
While very disappointing, this was not surprising, as the children live in a conflict area, which prevents vaccinations. An emergency plan was implemented immediately, so experts believe this outbreak will end quickly. Two other countries — Pakistan and Afghanistan — have also reported cases this year. To date, they’ve had 23 cases, but that’s fewer than half the number reported at this time a year ago.
Many Americans know a polio survivor from the epidemic that gripped the U.S. until the 1960s. Vaccines have been developed that have stopped polio here and are now eradicating it in Asia and Africa. But this progress is fragile and terrorist sanctuaries remain. As long as polio exists, it can travel anywhere and threaten everyone. It is just a plane ride away.
The good news is that polio can be stopped. Ending polio for good has been Rotary International’s top priority since 1988 and has resulted in a 99.9 percent reduction in polio cases since then.
Seattle-area Rotarians have been especially active in this effort. They have vaccinated children in Ethiopia for more than 20 years. Through the ongoing efforts of Rotary International many others have gone to Africa and Asia to help health officials vaccinate millions of children.
In addition, Rotarians have contributed more than $1 billion to this effort. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a major contributor, has matched recent Rotary contributions 2-to-1.
Funding from the U.S. government has been essential to this effort and remains critical until polio is eradicated. Four of Washington state’s elected officials who have been highly supportive have been honored by Rotary International as “congressional champions of polio eradication.” They are U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and U.S. Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, and Jim McDermott, D-Seattle. We are grateful to them and to many others on Capitol Hill who stand by polio funding.
If progress continues in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the outbreak in Nigeria is stopped and American and foreign governments sustain their support, the world’s population could be polio-free in just a few years. That would be one of the greatest public-health victories in history.
You can help. Encourage friends and family with children to have them protected by the safe, effective polio vaccine. In countries where it is hard for parents to do this, governments, Rotarians and the global-health community are working to reach every child at risk.