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Many experts predicted that 2015 would be the last year to see active polio cases anywhere in the entire world.   But those predictions were made around 2010 and poliomyelitis (“polio”) has proven to be stubborn foe that will not go away easily.  As many experts expected, the location where polio is putting up it’s final “last stand” is in the countries of Afghanistan and Pakistan, particularly in the tribal regions of the mountainous Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

The year 2016 saw the fewest number of polio cases in recorded history, but the virus is still out there.  At least Type 1 polio virus is still causing active disease.  However, polio eradication has already been partly achieved when in come to other types of polio.

Historically, polio virus has three forms:  Type 1, Type 2, and Type 3.  Polio vaccinations have generally included vaccine for all three types of polio.   However, in 2016 the vaccines were changed to only include Type 1 and Type 3 because Type 2 polio has been successfully eradicated.  No new cases of “wild Type 2” polio have been detected for years and “wild Type 2” virus has not been detected by environmental surveillance for years.  As a result, one might say that a third of the eradication effort has been successfully completed.

It may also be true that Type 3 polio has been eradicated.  Now new cases of Type 3 polio have been reported in 2016, but it is too early to be certain that the virus is truly gone.   Type 1 polio virus is still causing disease, but at record low numbers.

As of March 1, 2017, there have been a total of THREE CASES of polio reported since the beginning of the year (two in Afghanistan and one in Pakistan).   Last year, by this date there were a total of SEVEN reported cases.  In 2016 the total cases reported world-wide was 37.

Environmental samples collected from various locations around Pakistan and Afghanistan reveal that polio virus is present in the sewage (and sometimes in the drinking water) of a wide number of geographic locations.   The virus is much more wide-spread than the locations of the few clinical cases.

This strengthens the importance of reliable and continued vaccinations across these countries, but with special focus on regions where polio can still be easily found in the environment.   Of course, millions of new babies are being born each year in the regions surrounding these countries and the possibility of spread to any unvaccinated child remains a further threat, as long as live polio virus is circulating anywhere in the world.

Yemen is a prime example.  Although Yemen has not experienced active polio cases in recent years, there are millions of unvaccinated children in that country and this population is much like “tinder” just waiting for the “spark” that could start a large “conflagration” of polio cases.  This might happen as a consequence of a visitor from Pakistan/Afghanistan who (by chance) is silently carrying live polio virus within their own digestive tract.

Already, 2017 has seen polio vaccine shortages in some areas.  Strategies and been employed to prioritize the most susceptible populations to be vaccinated, but this is hardly an adequate solution.  Rotary International is the primary supplier of polio vaccine and funding for this vaccine is provided from donations collected by Rotary clubs around the world.

If you are a long-time Rotarian, you have heard about Polio Plus funding for polio vaccinations for many years.  Great success has been achieved.  Final success depends upon total eradication of all polio virus from the wild.  This goal can be achieved, but only if we continue our funding efforts to support the production of vaccine essential to the eradication effort.

If you have only recently become a Rotarian, you may want to learn more about this project which has been called the largest humanitarian project ever undertaken by any service club.  You can get some of the basic facts here:  Rotary and Polio   (https://my.rotary.org/en/document/rotary-and-polio).


A child receives polio vaccination drops during a National Pulse Polio Immunisation programme in Amritsar. Credit: Noah Salem/AFP

There are four more months remaining in our current Rotary Year.  Many clubs have major fund-raising events scheduled in these remaining months.   In the last several years, our District has suggested a MINIMUM level of ANNUAL support for Polio Plus equal to $50/member.   This is less than $2 per week.  (About the same cost as one soft drink at McDonald’s.)

So far some of our clubs have established Polio Plus Goals that both above and below this suggested level of support.   The following pages summarize these goals and contributions submitted to the Polio Plus FUND at The Rotary Foundation since the July 1, beginning of our 2016-2017 Rotary year.  Please review your club’s giving and consider whether your level of support is something you might consider giving a boost.  It will be genuinely appreciated!