LETTER – There is still work to be done to fully eradicate polio

World Polio Day October 24

Dear editor,

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Rotary and the world got some very good viral news. In August, the WHO declared Africa the sixth continent to be free of the wild polio viruses. It is an old virus having been around for at least two millennia. It has taken an extraordinary effort and a combination of public health officials, Rotary, and public and private sponsors to get this far.

As I joined Rotary some 35 years ago, Rotary was deciding to take on the challenge of ridding the world of the polioviruses. At that time no continent was polio-free. Rotarians started on their own, but were soon joined by WHO, UNICEF, the US Center for Disease Prevention and Control and subsequently the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Together we formed the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI). Together this health partnership is now very close to ending wild polio transmission everywhere.

While most of Asia, the last remaining inflicted continent, has been polio-free for a few years, wild polio is still endemic in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

To ensure that polio does not remerge, vaccinations of young children must continue everywhere. However, during the earlier days of COVID-19, door-to-door vaccination was paused to safeguard against inadvertently spreading the virus. But by May, the countless polio community workers in emerging countries were helping communicate COVID awareness and safety practices, helping with contract tracing and community surveillance.

And in recent weeks they have combined that work with a restart of polio vaccination efforts.

Globally, Rotarians have raised approximately $1 billion (usd) to fight polio which has been matched by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. A continuing effort of advocacy has resulted in governments of the world stepping up too. For instance, while North America has been polio-free since 1994, a succession of Canadian federal governments have contributed a total of close to $500 million (cdn) towards the global eradication effort.

On Oct. 24, the world will mark the annual World Polio Day. With only two of 195 countries endemic, we have much to celebrate – we are closer than ever to eradicate polio, but there is more work to be done.

As we have seen with the COVID-19 virus, as long as the virus has somewhere to hide, it is only a plane or boat ride away.

Rotary and the Gates Foundation committed earlier this year to raise another $450 million (USD) over the next three years to continue the fight, with The Gates Foundation matching Rotary contributions on a 2:1 basis.

If you would like to help rid the world of the scourge of polio, please contact any one of the Valley’s five Rotary clubs.

Richard Clarke,

Comox

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