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Polio Eradication: So Near, and Yet So Far

 Submitted by Delane Wycoff, Polio Plus Chair

An infant in Karachi, Pakistan receives polio drops in a recent vaccination campaign.

An infant in Karachi, Pakistan receives polio drops in a recent vaccination campaign.

The figures are in for 2012. Worldwide polio cases numbered 222 for the entire year. This is the lowest global total in history! Despite out-breaks in 2010, total global cases have continued to decline with each successive year being less than half of the previous year.

Outbreaks in 2012 were fewer than ever with only six cases in non-endemic countries (outside Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria). India has been polio-free for two years…something considered impossible only a few years ago.

Risk of a new outbreak in Egypt appears to be a serious possibility with the d

iscovery that sewage samples collected from two locations in Cairo have shown the presence of polio virus. The virus appears to have spread from Pakistan.

Although no new polio cases have yet been reported, the presence of live virus indicates some people in Cairo are carrying and shedding the virus, thus raising the risk of new infections among non-vaccinated people. Continued vaccination and careful hygiene are the best defense, but it remains to be seen if such measures will be sufficient to avoid new polio cases.

This is only the second time polio virus from Pakistan has infected any country other than neighboring Afghanistan; the first was China, where a virus from Pakistan sparked an outbreak in 2011. This new importation puts even more pressure on Pakistan to wipe out the virus within its borders.

Meanwhile, there have been additional murders of vaccination workers in Pakistan. In one incident, a police officer protecting vaccinators was gunned down. Although these despicable killings have interrupted vaccination campaigns and terrorized vaccination workers, there remains a core of very dedicated and determined people who are carrying on with vaccinations in spite of the recent threats and violence.

This courageous government-sponsored action is being carried forward because of the sobering realization that failure in the remaining polio hot spots in Pakistan could lead to new outbreaks and set the global eradication efforts back by years.

In Nigeria and bordering countries, immunization efforts have been delayed due to lack of vaccine and pockets of violence, but local officials are committed to moving forward with vaccinations to combat the disease in the northern regions of the country. Cases in Nigeria rose last year, with more than 100 new infections.

Obstacles include ignorant and suspicious parents who fear a secret “Western plot” to sterilize their children. Vaccinators sometimes openly vaccinate their own children first to convince reluctant parents of the safety.

Many clubs in District 5630 have Polio Plus fundraising events “in the works” for the months ahead. Is your club among these? If not, please discuss this with your club.

We are looking for each club to raise enough money for Polio Plus to exceed $50 per member in the 2012-2013 year (ending June 30, 2013). Many clubs have already exceeded $100 per member. We are hoping three or more clubs that may exceed $200 per member by June 30.

Funding is critical and we are grateful to every club that is doing its part to help Rotary fund polio eradication, which is the top priority of Rotary International.