In 1985, Rotary International launched its campaign to wipe polio from the face of the earth. This ambitious goal was to be realized by the year 2005, the 100th anniversary of the founding of Rotary. To be certified as polio free, a country must go three consecutive years without a new case of polio.
When this effort was undertaken, polio was one of the most dreaded diseases in the world. Thanks to the work of Rotarians and their partners such as the World Health Organization, UNICEF as well as numerous national and local health organizations, new cases of polio have dropped from about 1,000 cases per day to about 1,000 per year. These results are encouraging, but Rotary has vowed not to quit until polio has been totally eliminated. This is a contagious disease, and, until it is completely wiped out, it could become a menace once again.
A few weeks ago Lakewood Rotarian Ron Adkins and his wife, Jeanette, joined a volunteer group of about 35 Rotarians, spouses and friends to serve in the National Immunization Day in Ethiopia. Primarily composed of people from the Puget Sound area, the group included Rotarians from Oregon, Hawaii and British Columbia as well.
Once in Ethiopia, the group was divided into smaller units and teamed with Ethiopian Rotarians and local health officials. Ron and Jeanette were sent to the rural town of Nazareth. Going door to door in the hot, dusty village, their team administered the two drops of vaccine to about 1,200 preschool children in a period of several hours.
When will polio be whipped? No one can say for sure, but its range has been reduced substantially. In 1985 the wild polio virus was evident in all of Africa, South America, Asia, India, and even Mexico and Canada. Larger countries without polio included the US, Greenland, Australia, Japan and South Korea, and most of western Europe. At that time there were still cases in Spain and France. Today the wild polio virus is, for all practical purposes, found only in a region in northern India and a few countries in sub-Saharan Africa. With efforts like the recent National Immunization Day, those areas, too, will become polio free.