ROTARY ROUNDUP: Rotarians continue pursuit of polio eradication

Target date of 2018 for polio-free world still in sight

Polio is a crippling and potentially fatal infectious disease with no cure, but there are safe and effective vaccines.

The strategy to eradicate polio is based on preventing infection by immunizing every child until transmission stops and the world is polio-free.

The polio (poliomyelitis) virus is highly infectious. It invades the nervous system and quickly causes irreversible paralysis. Polio strikes any age, but mainly affects young children. Transmission is through person-to-person contact. It is shed through feces, where it spreads rapidly, especially in situations of poor hygiene and sanitation. If a sufficient number of children are immunized against polio, the virus is unable to find others to infect, and dies out. Most people infected with the poliovirus have no signs of illness and are never aware they have been infected. These symptomless people carry the virus in their intestines and can “silently” spread the infection.

Since 1985, Rotarians have helped immunize more than two billion children against polio worldwide. For as little as 60 cents, a child can be protected for life.

On Jan. 13, 2014, India was declared Polio free. In 2009, half the world’s new polio cases were in India. Today, there are none, thanks to Rotary, the World Health Organization, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, various governments and donors around the world, including Canada.

The final push to end polio is the largest and most complex disease eradication effort in history. As the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) carries out a six-year program to achieve a polio-free world by 2018, we know it won’t be easy. Rotary will maintain an intense focus in the remaining endemic countries, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan, as well as other outbreaks.

Polio was recently confirmed in Syria, a country that has been polio-free since 1999. Health authorities in Syria and neighbouring countries have launched urgent, multi-country immunization campaigns to ensure that every child is reached with the polio vaccine. These and other recent cases in previously polio-free countries serve as a stark reminder that as long as polio still exists, unimmunized children everywhere remain at risk. The progress being made in the remaining polio-endemic countries is encouraging, down by 40 per cent compared to the same time last year.

Rotarians remain committed to a polio-free world, and will continue efforts until polio is gone forever. Rotarians around the world and from our local area have helped by taking part in inoculations of at-risk children overseas. Rotarians feel proud to be part of this worldwide initiative. All our local clubs donate a portion of the monies raised each year in our community to the End Polio Now campaign. With your help we are making a difference.

If you wish to help end polio, visit to make a donation or contact a local club. From now to 2018, every dollar Rotary commits to polio eradication will be matched through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Canadian and U.S. governments. Let’s end polio now. We are this close.

Valerie Giles writes monthly on behalf of the Semiahmoo Peninsula’s five Rotary Clubs –