World Polio Day – Oct. 24

We do not hear much about polio these days. That is because polio has been all but eliminated around the world. Canada has been polio-free for many years.

In 2018, according to the World Health Organization, there were only 136 new cases in two countries (33 wild virus plus 103 vaccine related). This is a long way from the over 1000 cases a day that occurred as recently as 1985.

There are several reasons polio has been all but eliminated.

The first is the Salk vaccine which was developed back in the 1950s, followed by the Sabin vaccine which can be given orally.

Secondly, the initiative started by Rotary International in 1979 to eradicate polio. It took, however, several years to convince the World Health Organization, and other groups it could be done and to get it started.

Thirdly, money.  Much has been provided by Rotary ($1.25 billion), The Gates Foundation who came on board to match Rotary donations, and governments around the world. 

Fourth, the colossal amount of work done, primarily by the World Health Organization, related organizations and  Rotary to make sure the vaccination and educational programmes, (many of them related to sanitation and good water), were carried out worldwide.

In India alone, there are as many as 80 million children vaccinated in a single National Polio Day.  Many of the vaccinations have been done by thousands of volunteers, many of them Rotarians.

In order to eliminate the virus, according to Rotarian Dr Bob Scott from Cobourg, who headed the world-wide polio initiative for many years, EVERY CHILD IN THE ENTIRE WORLD NEEDS TO BE VACCINATED. Can you imagine the logistics and difficulty of reaching children all over the world, particularly in the only area polio now occurs:  the mountainous areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. 

Polio is viewed primarily as a children’s disease – with a much higher incidence among poor children! The virus creates muscle weakness, most often in the legs. Some children totally recover, but many are left with paralysis and some die.

Some people who get polio are affected later in life with post-polio syndrome whose symptoms include a loss of energy.

I was first exposed to polio because my aunt who lived with us contracted polio and infantile paralysis as a little girl. While she could walk short distances with canes and braces, to go farther she needed to be either pushed in a wheel chair or carried. This was often my job. Fortunately, she become an accomplished artist and lived until she was 80.

Through the help of many people, a large number of polio survivors have gone on to achieve great things. One of the most famous was U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Our former Prime Minister, Paul Martin, and his father both had polio, as did actors Mia Farrow, Donald Sutherland, Alan Alda, and athletes Johnny Weissmuller and Wilma Rudolph. Both overcame the effects of polio and became Olympic Gold medalists.

Eliminating the wild virus has been very difficult to do.  In fact, the number of wild virus cases has increased in 2019.  

The near elimination of polio and making life better for others through personal interventions is another great story of humans -many of them volunteers – successfully working together for the betterment of human kind.

Til next time,

Chris Snyder

Adapted from my book, “Creating Opportunities: A Volunteer’s Memoir.”

To buy a copy of the book, click here:

Creating Opportunities – A Volunteer's Memoir


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