World Rotary Day 2022

Mon, Oct 31st 2022 at 3:25 pm- Sat, Dec 31st 2022 - 5:25 pm

Eve Conway gives a presentation about the latest polio situation


World Polio Day 2022

To mark World Polio Day, which was on 24th October, the Rotary Club of South Foreland was fortunate to be given a zoom presentation about the current world polio situation from Eve Conway, a passionate supporter of the End Polio Now Campaign.  She is Vice Chair of that Campaign and Director Elect of Rotary International, amongst other roles.

Eve began by asking her audience to shut their eyes and imagine living on a rubbish tip in the slums of Delhi, surrounded by flies, dogs, cows and young children, as well as the pervasive smell of open sewers.

What she described as her ‘Rotary moment’ was giving polio drops to a small child in these surroundings and seeing the gratitude in the eyes of the child’s mother.  This was India in 2017 when Eve was a Rotary volunteer helping local health workers with a polio vaccination programme.

Eve remembers being at Rotary International’s Headquarters in the USA when the global effort to immunise the world’s children against polio was launched in 1985.  This was followed by the establishment of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in 1988 which began the development of a world infrastructure to combat polio. More recently, this infrastructure has been useful in the control of ebola and covid diseases.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative consists of six core partners working with national governments.  The partners are: The World Health Organisation, Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and GAVI, which is a vaccine alliance.

Rotary International has been a guiding force in this initiative, supporting vaccination and surveillance programmes, raising awareness and fundraising throughout the world.  In 1988 there were 350,000 cases of polio in 125 countries.  By 2021 there were only 6 cases in Pakistan and Afghanistan and the dream of a polio free world seemed closer.

 However, in 2022 this number has increased to 29 with a few cases being found in Malawi and Mozambique, despite Africa being declared polio free in 2020.  This year a particular vaccine derived strain of the polio virus has also been detected in sewage samples from East London, New York State and Jerusalem.

The reason for this is that one of the oral polio vaccines contains some weakened polio virus.  This can be secreted by vaccinated individulas into sewage and can mutate into a strain that can cause paralysis, though this is rare. People having had this oral vaccine may carry the vaccine derived virus to other countries. They and those who they infect may show no symptoms, might have flu- like symptoms, or a mild form of meningitis from which they will recover.

  The greatest danger of infection in in areas of low vaccine coverage. In New York State one case of paralysis occurred and a health emergency was declared to get people vaccinated.  In East London, where one in five of children under nine was unvaccinated, public awareness of the of the importance of vaccination increased.

So where are we now with polio eradication?  Here is summary of progress made:

Ø  Since 1988 polio cases have been reduced by 99.9%.

Ø  19 million people are able to walk because of the polio eradication effort

Ø  5 out of 6 World Health Regions are now certified as polio free

Ø  The African region was declared polio-free in 2020 (but 8 cases have occurred this year)

Ø  There are 3 types of wild polio virus.  Type 2 was declared eradicated in 2015, and type 3 in 2019

Ø  There are 29 cases of type 1 polio so far this year as well as some vaccine derived strains occurring in places that have had no cases for years, but we now have the vaccines that will gradually overcome this problem.

The lesson is that the polio virus everywhere must be eradicated or it will come back.  This means that the effort to achieve eradication must continue to be supported. On 11th October more than 2,800 leading scientists, physicians and global health experts from 110 countries launched the 2022 Declaration on Polio Eradication with the message that polio eradication is feasible and urgently needed.

Rotary International has pledged $50 million a year of financial support.  Rotary clubs all over the world continue their fundraising, with double the money they raise being added by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  The Rotary Club of South Foreland will be running a ‘Shuffleboard Evening’ at St Margaret’s Village Hall on Friday 18th November in support of the End Polio Campaign.

Despite the recent challenges of conflict, natural disaster and population movements the campaign has continued with the determination towards its goal of a polio free world.  As Bill Gates said recently:

‘So long as we never give up this polio doesn’t stand a chance’.

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