Friday is World Polio Day; here’s why we’re this close to ending it — forever |

Friday is World Polio Day; here’s why we’re this close to ending it — forever

49er Rotary Breakfast Club members show that we are this close to ending polio forever. Friday is World Polio Day, offering an opportunity tor raise awareness and funds to eradicate the disease forever.
Submitted by Andy Wright |

World Polio Day activities in Nevada County

Friday, Oct.24, 11a.m. - noon

KNCO interview with Rotary’s Dr. Bob Scott, past Chair of the International Polio Committee

Rotary End Polio Now donation events

Friday, Oct. 24, 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m.

Fowler Center (B & C Hardware) — Staffed by the Rotary Club of Nevada County South and the Bear River High School Interact Club

Give Polio the Boot donation event

Friday, Oct. 24, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.; and 4 -5 p.m.

Downtown Nevada City (Broad Street and Pine) — Staffed by Rotary Club of Nevada City

Penn Valley Rotary Club donation event

Friday, Oct. 24, 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Holiday Market, Penn Valley

“World Polio Day: Making history” livestream event

Friday, Oct. 24, 4:30 p.m. —

Emmy award-winning actor Archie Panjabi, one of Rotary’s ambassadors for polio eradication, will join a panel of experts on World Polio Day at a special Livestream presentation by Rotary and the Northwestern University Center for Global Health on the progress of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI). The 90-minute even will be held before a live audience at the John Hughes Auditorium on Northwestern’s Chicago campus.

The event will bring together experts including Dr. Bruce Aylward, assistant director-general for Polio, Emergencies and Country Collaboration at the World Health Organization; Dennis Ogbe, polio survivor, Paralympian, and ambassador for the United Nations Foundation’s Shot@Life campaign to promote child immunization; and Dr. Robert Murphy, professor of medicine-infectious diseases at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine. The program will be archived for later viewing.

For more on this and other polio eradication activities, visit

Polio was one of the most feared diseases of the 20th century. It’s a human enterovirus spread by nasal and oral secretions and by contact with contaminated feces.

The virus enters the body through the mouth and multiplies as it goes through the digestive system. In 99 percent of cases, polio is a mild illness with flu-like symptoms and no long-term effects.

But in the remaining cases, the virus enters the bloodstream and attacks the nerve cells, causing muscle pain or spasms and, ultimately, paralysis. Often, paralysis or muscle weakness remains for life. In severe cases, the throat and chest may be paralyzed and the patient may die without breathing support.

Though it attacks mainly young children, polio can also affect older people. Franklin Roosevelt contracted the disease when he was 39 and suffered its effects until he died at 63.

Polio has likely existed since prehistory times. Though it killed thousands, it wasn’t named until the 1880s when the first epidemics appeared in Europe. Soon after, widespread epidemics appeared in the United States; by 1910, epidemics were frequent throughout the developed world. At its peak in the 1940s and 50s, polio would paralyze or kill over half a million people worldwide every year.

In 1952, Jonas Salk developed a vaccine based on inactivated poliovirus. After testing for two years in the largest medical experiment in history, it was announced to the world in 1955. By 1957, following mass immunizations, the annual number of polio cases in the United States dropped from a peak of nearly 58,000 cases to just 5,600 cases.

In 1961, Albert Sabin developed a vaccine from live poliovirus, which has become the vaccine for the entire world.

The last case of wild poliovirus transmission in the U.S. was recorded in 1979. Unfortunately, by then polio transmission in developing countries with poor sanitation had increased to nearly 1,000 cases a day. Economic costs to the world for polio care and treatment, lost productivity, and rejection of stricken individuals were in the billions of dollars.

In 1985, after local Rotary clubs completed the successful immunization of 6,000,000 children in the Philippines, Rotary International launched PolioPlus, the first and largest internationally coordinated private-sector support of a public health initiative, with an initial pledge of $120 million, which grew to $247 million by 1988.

In 1988, the World Health Assembly passed a resolution to eradicate polio by 2005, setting up the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. At that time, more than 125 countries were polio-endemic. The world had not seen a project of this scope since the elimination of smallpox.

The mission was ambitious. In cooperation with the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Rotary set out to immunize every child on the planet. To date, more than 2.5 billion (that’s right: billion) children have been immunized. In 2007, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation joined the fight, giving over $700 million in matching donations from Rotary International.

Since 1985, $9 billion has been spent on fighting polio. The results are astounding. About 99 percent of the world is now polio-free. New cases of the disease have plummeted from 350,000 in 1985 to only 220 this year.

But the hardest part is just beginning.

There are only three endemic countries left in the world — Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. And there are many logistical problems in getting the vaccine to the children in these countries.

But it can be done.

The final battle to eradicate polio will not come cheap. It will take another $5 billion to finish the job by 2018, but the savings in lives and money (as much as $40 billion per year) are well worth it.

Rotary International created World Polio Day to bring attention to the fight to end polio forever. On Friday, local Rotary clubs will sponsor fundraisers at the Fowler Center in Grass Valley and in downtown Nevada City.

KVMR will host a special radio program from 1 to 2 p.m. with international polio experts, local Rotary leaders and a special guest who survived polio after living years in an iron lung.

There will also be a live-streaming event on featuring world-renowned experts on polio.

We must continue the fight to end this awful disease.

If we quit now, it can come back stronger than ever. That last one percent will be tough, but it’s our chance to make history.

We really are this close. Find out how you can help at

Bob Yazell, a member of 49er Breakfast Rotary Club, lives in Nevada City.

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