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Rotary Happenings: Rotary Club marks World Polio Day with inspiring presentation

By Staff | Oct 29, 2019


Polio was once considered one of the most feared diseases in the United States. In the early 1950s before polio vaccines were available, polio outbreaks caused more than 15,000 cases of paralysis each year in the United States. Although polio was a known disease in many parts of the world, as far back as the 1800s, it was not considered epidemic. But between 1951 and 1953, 50,000 new cases were reported in the United States. Three thousand people died. The polio virus was spread through personal contact, contaminated water and human waste. Public events were limited, public swimming pools were closed, and movie house shuttered. The United States was in panic mode.

Jonas Salk became a national hero when he calmed the fear of polio with his vaccine, approved in 1955. Albert Sabin introduced an oral vaccine in the 1960s that replaced Salk’s. All school children received the Salk vaccine shot administered by medical personnel at school, but when Sabin’s oral vaccine was introduced non-medical personnel were added to the process of delivering the vaccine, two-drops at a time. By 1957 – two years after the introduction of Salk’s vaccine – cases in the United States had fallen by almost 90 percent, and by 1979, polio had been eradicated in the country.

In the 1980s, Rotary International was celebrating its 75th anniversary and looking for a special humanitarian project to mark the occasion. Up until this time most of the service projects Rotary did were local, except for world peace scholarships. It was time to go international with something big to mark the momentous occasion. The Salk vaccine was the catalyst toward the forward-thinking idea of the eradication of polio across the globe, spearheaded by Rotary and Rotarians such as Grant Wilkins of Denver, a polio victim himself. The idea was taken to the World Health Organization and it wasn’t exactly convinced that it could be done. Rotary didn’t give up and began with a fundraising effort “Polio Plus Campaign,” along with setting up a network of Rotary sponsored distribution points for the polio oral vaccine around the globe.

According to the Centre for Public Impact: “The World Health Assembly (WHA) at an annual meeting of the Ministers of Health of all WHO member states, committed itself to polio eradication in 1988. The assembly called for the worldwide eradication of the disease. It marked the launch of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), which was led jointly by national governments, the WHO, Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and UNICEF, and now generously supported by the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation is the largest globally initiative on the planet.”

Rotary had the audacity to dream big. It started Polio Plus and was a founding partner in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. It made a promise to all the children of the world, “we will not stop.” Each year Rotarians and their partners continue the effort to distribute the polio vaccine throughout the world, ever mindful that if there is only one polio case in the world, the poliovirus can easily be imported into a polio-free country and can spread rapidly amongst non-immunized populations. To date there are only two countries in the world – war-torn Afghanistan and Pakistan – currently reporting polio cases; five cases reported last year. Nigeria had been on the list as a non-polio free country until this year, with the measured success of no polio cases for the last three years.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Most people in the U.S. get the polio vaccine when they are children. Children should be vaccinated with four doses of IPV at the following ages – dose at 2 months, dose at 4 months, dose at 6-18 months and a booster dose at 4-6 years.

Two-drops at a time can wipe out polio from being, so what else can we accomplish if we ban together on an important matter to all of us and work shoulder to shoulder for its success. Just before island Rotarian John Schwandke introduced the extraordinary video about Rotary’s global promise of achieving world polio eradication, he told us his own personal story of being a polio survivor. Schwandke was in fourth or fifth grade when he wasn’t feeling well with flu like symptoms and general weakness in his body and he was immediately taken to hospital. First thing they did was a spinal tap used as the primary test for polio. He had polio.

Schwandke was immediately put in an isolation ward to be treated. He was there for two weeks, isolated and alone, hearing the ere artificial breathing sounds of the iron-lung in the nearby ward. Schwandke made the sound for us and you could hear in his voice and expression on his face how scary that sound was to him. He was just about 10. Luckily, the polio did not affect his lungs or paralyze him. The polio virus can attack the muscles that help you breathe. No device is more associated with polio than the iron lung. Before its invention, children with polio frequently died. The polio left Schwandke with some physical reminders of the disease; growth of his leg and foot was abnormal and although not noticeable to many, the reminders are there both physically and mentally.

For information about the Sanibel-Captiva Rotary Club, visit sanibelrotary.org or www.facebook.com/sancaprotary. The club meets every Friday at 7 a.m. at the Dunes Golf and Tennis Club, at 949 Sand Castle Road, Sanibel; visitors are welcome to attend.