Guest column: End polio now with a 6:1 matched donation to Rotary

“My older sister had polio as a child. I distinctly remember visiting her in the hospital and seeing her leg in a full cast after surgery.” 

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By Bob Schultz, MD

Rotary Club of Winters

We are close, very close to eradicating polio. We have made tremendous progress against this dreaded disease over the last 30 years, but we need to finish the job. Resources will be needed and, for a brief time, the impact of any donation will be multiplied six times. 

Yes, you really can make difference. And now is your best chance.

Polio is an infectious disease caused by the polio virus.  The disease is highly contagious and is spread through contaminated food and water.  The great majority of cases have no or minor symptoms, but in 1 percent of cases the virus enters the nervous system.  These patients can develop paralysis and up to 5 percent of the children and 30 percent of the adults die from the disease.

Polio has existed since the beginning of recorded history with cases described in ancient Egypt and Rome.  Polio epidemics became a major health problem in the 1900s.  By the 1940s, half a million people were affected annually.  Highly effective vaccines were developed in the 1950s and they became the cornerstone of polio prevention.

In 1988, there were 350,000 cases of polio in 124 countries.  That year marked the beginning of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI). 

The GPEI brought together five major organizations: World Health Organization, Center for Disease Control, UNICEF, Gates Foundation and Rotary International.  Its goal was to completely eliminate polio by the year 2000 and its strategy was simple: immunize every at risk child until there is no one left for the disease to transmit to and the disease eventually dies out. 

This immunization-based approach was the exact same strategy used to eliminate smallpox.  The last case of smallpox was in 1977 and the disease was declared eradicated in 1980.

Although the GPEI did not meet its goal of polio eradication by 2000, its work has had a tremendous impact in reducing the incidence of polio as can be seen in the following data table.

Year

Countries with Polio

Total Cases

1988

124

350,000

2000

20

2971

2005

16

1979

2013

8

416

2015

2

74

2018

2

33

The only two countries with active polio cases are Pakistan and Afghanistan.  Reaching all vulnerable children is difficult. In addition, extensive monitoring and vaccination programs must be maintained all over the world.

GPEI’s work has prevented an estimated 18 million cases of paralysis. Nearly half a billion children were vaccinated in 2018 alone. Despite their success, the GPEI will not be satisfied until polio is completely eradicated. Once polio is gone, it is gone for good; no one will ever have to suffer from this paralyzing disease again.

GPEI has developed a plan called The Polio Endgame Strategy 2019–2023 that will take us through the final challenges to eradication and lay the groundwork for a sustainable future free of polio. The End Game Strategy plan requires resources and this is where you can help.

Your donation will be multiplied times 6 greatly increasing its impact. 

How does this work? If you make a donation to the Rotary Club of Winters Community Foundation (RCOWCF), the Foundation will match your donation (up to a total of $2,500). The RCOWCF will then send your donation and the local match to the Rotary Foundation where the Gates Foundation will provide an additional 2:1 match. 

For example, let’s say you donate $1. RCOWFC matches that amount for a total donation of $2. The $2 is sent to the Rotary Foundation and the Gates Foundation provides a 2:1 match, or an additional $4.  That makes a total of $6 to the GPEI for your initial $1 investment.

October is End Polio month and Thursday, Oct. 24 is World Polio Day. This is a unique time limited opportunity (through the end of October) to make a difference. You can participate in the $1 = $6 campaign by sending a check to RCOWCF, P.O. Box 565, Winters, or go to the Winters Rotary Facebook page where you can make a donation online.

As a member of Winters Rotary, I am proud that our organization is playing a lead role in this Initiative.  I also have a personal interest in seeing the end of polio. 

My older sister had polio as a child. I distinctly remember visiting her in the hospital and seeing her leg in a full cast after surgery. Her toes protruded from the end of the cast with a wire sticking out of each toe.  Fortunately, with surgery and rehabilitation, she has been able to lead a normal life. Others have not been as lucky. 

Please join me in helping put an end to this disease.

Bob Schultz, a retired physician, is the Chair of the Rotary Club of Winters Community Foundation.  Learn more about his group, which meets every Thursday at noon, at wintersrotary.org.

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