“Yes, Virginia, polio is still here”, but it is now in full retreat.”
In June 1948 the PILOT featured a story about a young Aberdeen mother, Lib Monroe, who had just been diagnosed with polio; a few days after her baby son, Robbie, had been admitted to the local hospital with polio. A shocking and unusual event and one that resonates today with the little boy now grown and retired along with a case of post-polio syndrome.
The good news is that the Salk and Sabine vaccines were available by the mid-fifties. The last recorded case of live virus polio occurred in North America twenty years later. And so the fight to eradicate the virus goes on, with the members of Rotary clubs all over the world continuing the house-to-house fight to completely eradicate the virus.
On October 24 these same Rotarians will observe World Polio Day worldwide and the battle that they have been engaged in since 1985. Rotary Clubs around the globe have all been contributing in one way or another to this campaign to eradicate the virus since that day in 1985.
Smallpox is the only other viral plague that has been eliminated in modern times and we are very close to victory over the polio virus with only Afghanistan and Pakistan remaining where cases of wild polio virus have been reported recently. Vaccinations and control measure will continue for a few years longer, and so will the campaign of the partner organizations of World Health Organization, UNICEF, CDC, Rotary International and country governments.
The importance and validation of continuing vaccination programs has been brought home to the world with the outbreak of Ebola and more recently with a measles outbreak sourced at Disneyland here in the US.
Before Rotary International made the commitment to eradicate polio a normal worldwide polio year might bring 350,000 or so victims, primarily babies and schoolchildren. The memory of closed swimming pools and fears of group activities were a part of every day life and for the living victims the crippling reminders of a past that cannot be forgotten.
The March of Dimes, begun in the early 1930’s developed the modern methods for raising funds and we depend entirely upon the understanding of everyone that it takes the will of all of us to completely eradicate this plague that devastates the physical and economic life of its victims and their families.
So yes, Virginia, polio is still here, but with the help of all of us it will soon be a thing of the past. Expect to hear about more fund-raisers for this truly international program, which, in the end, will bring benefits to all of us, and that includes all those of us safe at home in our own communities.
Founder Rotary Polio Survivors & Associates Rotarian Action Group
Chairman Sandhills Postpolio Group and member of the Rotary Club of Pinehurst.