In the United States the days of polio outbreaks are a thing of the past and reported cases worldwide are down to 200.
That largely is due to the efforts of Rotarians, whose international movement spearheaded the eradication of the disease in 1985.
Since then organizations such as UNICEF and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have backed the cause. Rotary has created the “This Close” polio awareness campaign, which through public service announcements pushes to create a polio-free world.
Major figures such as Bill and Melinda Gates, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and actor Jackie Chan have joined the effort.
Three countries still reporting cases of polio are Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Iola Rotary is trying to “raise our community members’ awareness of polio to get more donations,” long-time Rotarian Ellis Potter said. Donations would help fund the immunization trips and the purchase of more live vaccines, which must be kept cold.
In addition to supplying vaccine, another challenge is “identifying where you have been,” Potter said. “There are no street addresses and homes made out of cardboard.”
Though eradication seems to be right around the corner, Potter said it is in the home stretch where it’s the hardest.
“Rotary has raised over $1 billion to the effort,” Potter said. Rotarians are looking for more donations to help complete eradication of the disease.
POLIO seems so far in the past to most Americans, but people such as Potter still remember the 1950s and 60s, when being diagnosed with polio was a national and worldwide fear.
“It is interesting that this disease has been eliminated from the Western world for a long time,” Potter said. “I can remember not being able to go to the pool or to the movie theater because my mom was too fearful.”
Polio is spread through fecal-oral transmission and was highly contagious during the outbreak.
One of the most famous cases know to Americans was President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was paralyzed from the waist down from the disease.