By GLENN KAHL
In 1985 when Rotary International vowed to eradicate polio from the face of the earth, more than 1,000 children were paralyzed each day worldwide.
The disease that crippled people for life, was often fatal, forced some to survive by being placed in an iron lung to breathe, and resulted in many Third World victims crawling for the rest of their lives is almost on its last legs.
Now, 32 years later, more than 2.5 billion children have been vaccinated worldwide with Rotarians providing more than $1.1 billion in an effort that has been joined by government funds and a big boost from the Bill Gates Foundation.
This past Tuesday was marked as World Polio Day with Rotarians everywhere celebrating their successes and committing to a final push to make sure the dreaded disease is eradicated. There have been 12 wild polio cases reported so far in 2017 plus 61 cases of weaker polio caused by vaccinations. That contrasts with 385,000 new polio cases that occurred in 1985.
Manteca Rotary in 1985, under then president John Brinton, donated thousands of dollars to help kick off the world-wide campaign.
Stockton Rotarian Dr. Joe Serra was the keynote speaker at Tuesday’s gathering of the Rotary Clubs in the South County at Lathrop’s River Islands telling of his first-hand involvement in combating polio’s impacts. He has made 12 trips to Malawi, Africa over the course of 25 years where he operated on more than 500 crawlers who had been devastated by the disease.
“We made a promise to the children of the world and we intended to keep it,” Serra said as he spoke before a room filled with Rotarians .
Polio could be eradicated by year’s end, according to the Gates Foundation A native of Nigeria, Dennis Ogbe, Paralympian and ambassador for the United Nations Foundation’s Shot@Life campaign to promote child immunization spoke compellingly about the challenges of living with the disease and the opportunity to protect people from the crippling disease for generations to come.
“I have learned not to look at anything as impossible and that includes especially the eradication of polio” Ogbe said. “We have come a long way since the start. So, let us finish strong and end polio now.”
Emmy Award winning actress Archie Panjabi spoke passionately about why she is so committed to her work as a Rotary ambassador for polio eradication.
“When I was a child of 10 years old, I went to India. As I walked to school, I would see children younger than me with no use of their limbs begging for money,” Panjabi said. “It broke my heart.”
Inspired as an adult to learn more about polio, she was amazed by the amount of work that Rotary had done in helping India be free of the disease since 2011 and joined a team of Rotary volunteers to immunize children there last year.
“I will do whatever I can to support Rotary and its partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative ….and if you do whatever you can, then together we can eradicate polio forever,” she said.
There has also been a tireless effort to immunize children in Pakistan.
“We ae very optimistic that the challenges will not be able to deter us and soon Pakistan will become polio free,” said Pakistan Polio Plus Committee chair Aziz Memon.
Many of the Third World countries resisted the attempts to immunize their children fearing it was an effort to sterilize their polulations.
To contact Glenn Kahl, email firstname.lastname@example.org.