Polio eradication nearly done

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September 26, 2015 - 12:00 AM

By 1979, thanks to development of a vaccine by Dr. Jonas Salk in the 1950s, polio was a thing of the past in the United States.
That wasn’t true elsewhere, until starting in 1985 when Rotary International met in Kansas City and came away with an ambitious plan to eradicate the dreaded childhood disease worldwide.
Iolan Rotarian Richard Chase, then president of the local club, was there, along with Clyde Toland and several others. They listened to details of Polio 2005, the ambitious program to immunize children around the world against polio with an oral vaccine developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the years after Salk introduced his injected vaccine.
Initially, the proposal was to gear up with fundraising and to start oral immunizations in 1986. Dr. Sabin expressed urgency — “Let’s start today,” Chase recalled him exclaiming.
The Iola delegation, seized by the moment and buoyed by electric optimism, agreed. Back in Iola a committee was formed, with Toland its chair, after Rotarians received permission to jump ahead of the game and provide vaccine solely on their nickel for the tiny Central American country of Belize, minted just four years earlier from British Honduras.
Fundraising was the first step. It received a boost when people flocked to the Bowlus Fine Arts Center to hear a concert by Lisa Tatsch, country and western singer whose father, Elmer, was a Rotarian.
“We cleared $1,700 on the concert,” Chase told Rotarians Thursday, or nearly half the club’s goal of $3,850. To provide enough vaccine to treat 35,000 four-year-olds in Belize, $7,700 was needed; Rotary International promised to grant half the total. Iolans responded generously. Rather than $3,850, the club came up with $4,214, with the remainder going to help elsewhere in the world.
The response internationally was as remarkable. In two years, $247 million was in coffers of what would become Rotary’s signature PolioPlus program. The goal set at the Kansas City conference was $120 million.
To put put polio’s worldwide reach in sharp focus, when Rotary began its project 30 years ago, 50,000 children died annually and half a million were crippled.
Today only three countries have reported new cases of the disease, and Nigeria is on the cusp of being polio-free. Afghanistan has had six cases, Pakistan 28.
Chase said with success against polio, Rotary’s next goal, again in concert with the World Health Organization, would be to wipe out other childhood diseases preventable by immunizations.

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