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The continuing effort to eradicate polio

The world is nearing completion of the effort to accomplish one of the greatest public health achievements in history — the eradication of the polio virus. This means a world in which every child would be safe from the paralysis caused by the virus, and no family would have to bear the emotional cost of this dread disease. This effort has been working to eradicate polio for over 30 years, and has reduced polio cases by 99.9 percent.

This effort has been led by a public-private partnership known as the Global Polio Eradication Initiative(GPEI). The major partners are the World Health Organization, Rotary International, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This coalition unites frontline health workers, governments, donors and global leaders behind the vision of a world where children are forever safe from the threat of polio.

Polio now exists in the smallest geographic area in history. In 1988, there were 350,000 annual cases of wild polio virus in 125 countries. In 2018, there were only 32 cases of wild polio virus. Two of the strains of  the polio virus have been eliminated, and only one remains.

The effort to eradicate polio has built an impressive health infrastructure, together with tools and knowledge that is being used to fight other world diseases such as Ebola and malaria. A vastly improved worldwide disease surveillance network has also been created. Through the delivery of Vitamin A supplements alone, an estimated 1.5 million deaths have been prevented.

Today, the effort to defeat polio involves 200 countries, utilizes 20 million volunteers and has vaccinated 2.5 billion children. We desperately need to protect our gains. If we don’t end polio now, we could see a resurgence of up to 200,000 cases annually within a decade. The world could also risk losing the $50 billion in estimated savings that eradication would generate over the next 20 years.

To protect global progress, the program still vaccinates more than 400 million children across dozens of countries every year and conducts surveillance in more than 70 countries. Since 2001, there have been wild polio outbreaks in 41 countries that were previously polio-free. While each outbreak has been stopped, each one is a reminder that as long as polio exists, every country-and every child is a risk.

Through its ongoing surveillance, the program investigates more than 100,000 suspected cases of polio each year, using a community reporting network. It has also expanded environmental sewage testing to help vaccination campaigns target areas where the virus is circulating even before any child shows symptoms of polio.

Pakistan and Afghanistan have made large gains toward ending polio in a region challenged by insecurity and population movement across the countries’ shared border. Vaccinators are reaching more children at border and transit points, and the program has increased the use of locally recruited social mobilisers to vaccinate children in the highest risk areas.

Pakistan has reduced polio cases by more than 97 percent, but additional cases still occur, indicating that the wild polio virus continues to circulate in the environment. Afghanistan has also seen a huge decrease in wild polio cases, but these gains are fragile. The program has used a range of interventions, including vaccinating during brief windows of opportunity in conflict areas and collaborating with religious and community leaders, and implementing strategies in coordination with Pakistan to reach mobile populations. To rid the region of polio, these countries must increase access in hard-to-reach areas and among mobile populations.

In conclusion, we have to stay the course to finally rid the world of polio. Each of the 35,000 Rotary Clubs are asked to contribute to this effort. This is Quincy Rotary’s 12th year asking for donations to rid the world of polio. Over the past 11 years, our community has raised over $12,700.

Please help the global effort again this year by giving what you can. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will match all of the donations to Rotary clubs on a 2 to 1 basis. This means that for every dollar you donate, $3 will go toward the eradication effort!

Rotary members will be at the 2019 Plumas County Drive-Through Flu Clinic at the Fairgrounds. The clinic will be held Monday, Oct. 21, starting at 11 a.m.

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