What Exactly Is Polio?

Decades ago, polio outbreaks were a constant threat around the world. After the introduction of polio vaccines by Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin and a steadfast immunization effort, these outbreaks became part of history in most of the world.

Yet many still live under the threat of polio, which is why Rotary and its global partners are committed to reaching every child with the vaccine and ending this disease worldwide.

Major gains have been made in the global fight against polio:

In the 1980s, 1,000 children were infected by the disease every day in 125 countries. Today, polio cases have declined by 99 percent, with fewer than two thousand cases reported in 2006.
Two billion children have been immunized, five million have been spared disability, and over 250,000 deaths from polio have been prevented.

What exactly is polio?
• A crippling and potentially fatal infectious disease, polio (poliomyelitis) still strikes children mainly under the age of five in countries in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.
• Polio can cause paralysis and sometimes death. Because there is no cure for polio, the best protection is prevention.

For as little as US$0.60 worth of vaccine, a child can be protected against this crippling disease for life. It can cause paralysis within hours, and polio paralysis is almost always irreversible. In the most severe cases, polio attacks the motor neurons of the brain stem, causing breathing difficulty or even death.

Historically, polio has been the world’s greatest cause of disability. If polio isn’t eradicated, the world will continue to live under the threat of the disease. More than 10 million children will be paralyzed in the next 40 years if the world fails to capitalize on its US$4 billion global investment in eradication.

Did you know that more than 10 million children will be paralyzed in the next 40 years if the world fails to eradicate polio? Polio eradication is within our grasp. But if we don’t eradicate the disease now, the risk of crippling and deadly polio outbreaks will continue to threaten the world’s children.

Health experts agree that these primary challenges must be overcome in order to reach the goal of polio eradication:
• Halting the spread of the poliovirus in the four remaining endemic countries (Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan), which continue to export it to polio-free areas
• Curbing the intense spread of the poliovirus in northern Nigeria and western Uttar Pradesh, India
• Rapidly stopping polio outbreaks in previously polio-free countries
• Addressing low routine-immunization rates and surveillance gaps in polio-free areas
• Maintaining funding and political commitment to implement the eradication strategies

Four key strategies for stopping poliovirus transmission:

1. Routine immunization
High infant-immunization coverage with four doses of oral polio vaccine (OPV) in the first year of life is critical. Routine immunization is essential because it’s the primary way that polio-free countries protect their children from the threat of imported polio.

2. National Immunization Days
For decades, Rotary’s PolioPlus program has been one of the driving forces during National Immunization Days, or NIDs. Rotarians are involved in myriad ways before, during, and after an NID, by providing funds for millions of drops of vaccine, promoting upcoming campaigns in the community, distributing vaccine to local health centers, serving as monitors, working with local officials to reach every child, and participating in surveillance efforts.

3. Surveillance
Rotarians play an important role in working with health workers, pediatricians, and others to find, report, and investigate cases of acute flaccid paralysis in timely manner (ideally within 48 hours of onset). PolioPlus Partners sometimes helps fund containers that preserve the integrity of stool samples during transport to laboratories. The program has also played a leading role in providing equipment for the global poliovirus laboratory.

4. Targeted mop-up campaigns
Rotary’s support of mop-up campaigns is similar to NID volunteering, but on a smaller, often “house-to-house,” scale.

You can help Rotary get the job done by contributing to Rotary’s PolioPlus program or volunteering and creating awareness of polio. Generous contributions to PolioPlus help fund these activities and bring us closer to polio eradication. Contribute to stopping polio today.

Webmaster's Note: View our life-changing 2008 NIDS in India on our blog journal.

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