The hideous disease of polio once was widespread throughout the world. Now, thanks to the sustained efforts of Rotary and other organizations, it is endemic in just two countries: Afghanistan and Pakistan.
But, that does not mean the polio immunization and education efforts can be ended elsewhere. While polio is incurable, it is preventable with continued diligence.
With those facts in mind in mind, Rotary International has released another $35 million to support immunization activities and research in nine countries. The move builds on last year’s historic achievement of stopping the transmission of the wild poliovirus in Nigeria, the last place it was found on the African continent.
“We are closer than ever to achieving a polio-free world,” said Michael McGovern, chair of RI’s PolioPlus Committee. “To ensure that no child ever again suffers the devastating effects of this disease” — which includes permanent paralysis, respiratory failure, and even death — “we must all ensure that the necessary funds and political will are firmly in place in 2016.”
One of Rotary’s major partners in the fight against polio is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Here’s how it explains the need for vigilance:
“If we fail to fully eradicate this highly contagious disease, within a decade we could witness a resurgence of as many as 200,000 new cases annually. Since 2008, more than 20 countries have experienced polio outbreaks — some of them multiple times. Efforts to reach unvaccinated children are often hampered by security risks and geographic and cultural barriers. Furthermore, vaccination campaigns cost approximately $1 billion per year, a price that is not sustainable over the long term.”
The distribution of funds:
- $11.4 million, Pakistan
- $6 million, Afghanistan
- $5.5 million, Nigeria
- $4.1 million, Ethiopia
- $2 million, Chad
- $1.8 million, Somalia
- $1.6 million, Cameroon
- $1.6 million, Iraq
- $618,000, India
- $355,000, to general polio research
In Pakistan and Afghanistan, there have been periodic reports of militant groups attacking, and sometimes killing, polio vaccine distributors and their security personnel. The rationale for such attacks varies, ranging from claims that the vaccine is a Western ploy to render recipients to reproduce to claims the American CIA uses the immunization program to carry out spy activities. In mid-January, terrorists killed 15 security personnel in Pakistan at an immunization clinic.
“Vast improvements [in polio eradication] have been seen in Pakistan, with more than 80% fewer cases in the country than in 2014,” McGovern said. “To stop polio in Pakistan in 2016, we must ensure the safety of vaccinators to reach every child.
“Our release of $35 million in grants … signals our determination to finish the job to which thousands of courageous individuals have committed themselves, and to never forget the sacrifices made by those who lost their lives in this effort.”