World reaches the tipping point of success and failure; Rotary International End Polio Now co-ordinator and Cardiff Bay Rotary member Mike Parry outlines the work the organisation is doing to help eradicate the disease.
When eradicated, Polio will be only the second disease in human history to be eradicated following the spectacular success of ridding the world of Smallpox in 1979.
After nearly 30 years, and after immunising more than two billion children against polio, the world's largest voluntary service organisation, Rotary International, and its partners are on the brink of making history.
When Rotary began the fight in 1985, polio affected 350,000 people, mostly children, in 125 countries every year. Since then, polio has been reduced by more than 99%.
Fewer than 700 new cases were reported in 2011, and the wild poliovirus today is confined to isolated pockets in only three countries.
But if they don't finish the fight right now, polio could quickly re-surge, with devastating consequences. More than 10 million children could be paralysed in the next 40 years. This once-in-a-generation opportunity would be gone forever.
Polio is one of only a few diseases which can be completely eradicated, such as was the case with smallpox.
By eradicating Polio, children across the entire world will benefit and no child need ever know the pain of Polio-paralysis.
Most diseases such as HIV and malaria for example cannot be eradicated because the tools to eradicate them are not available.
Polio however does not have an intermediate host, such as the mosquitoes in the case of malaria, and a safe and effective vaccine is available.
Polio is a highly infectious disease that invades the nervous system and can cause paralysis or even death in a matter of hours.
The wild Polio virus enters the body through the mouth, in water or food that has been contaminated with faecal matter from an infected person. The virus multiplies in the intestine and is excreted by the infected person, which can pass on the virus to others. Children under five years of age are mainly affected.
As recently as 20 years ago, 1,000 children every single day were paralysed by polio. In 2012 only 489 cases, as of the end of October, had been reported, but that is still nearly two cases per day that adversely affect young children.
Polio does not respect borders - children living in areas where immunity levels are low are especially vulnerable. The best defence against polio is to eradicate the virus and this is what Rotary and its partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) are working towards. Only then will all children be safe.
The vaccines are designed to be administered multiple times to ensure full protection. In the tropics, several doses of the polio vaccine are required for a child to be fully protected - sometimes more than 10 and each additional doses further strengthens a child's immunity levels. The number of doses it takes to immunise a child depends on their health and nutritional status, and how many other viruses the child has been exposed to.
Rotarians assist in the immunisation process often referred to a National Immunisation Days (NIDs) and the numbers are unbelievably large. Rotarians from Wales joined with fellow Rotarians from England, Scotland and Ireland at the beginning of November to join in what is hoped to be one of the last mass immunisation programmes in India. India reported its last Polio case in January 2011 and overcame significant geographical and medical problems to achieve this position through the cooperation of Rotary, its partners and the Government of India.
There are just three countries which have never stopped polio transmission - Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. However Polio can and does spread from these countries to their neighbours and beyond. Chad being a current example of a country that had eradicated Polio only to see it return with five cases reported this year.
This is where a problem exists.
As of October 2012, Rotary and its partners through the Global Polio eradication Initiative (GPEI) recognises a significant funding gap that could mean a staggering 94 million children over 33 countries may not receive vaccination to boost their immunity.
The Director General of the World Health Organisation has described the current state of polio eradication as being at a tipping point between success and failure. A Global Emergency Action Plan has been developed to address the critical programmatic risks and source the urgent additional investment that is essential to tip it towards success.
With the lowest-ever number of Polio cases reported in 2012, success has never been closer.
Rotarians in Wales, in the reminder of Great Britain and Ireland and across the World are determined that success in the total eradication of Polio will be achieved.
A baby is given a dose of oral polio vaccine
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|Publication:||Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)|
|Date:||Dec 10, 2012|
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