WESTFIELD — The Rotary Club of Westfield on November 14 heard a speaker recall firsthand the devastating impact of polio during the 20th century.
The polio virus infects the nerves going to muscles of young children and paralyzing them. Entire hospital wards were filled with children in “iron lungs” to help them breathe. The song “Just a Spoonful of Sugar” in Mary Poppins was written about the polio vaccine being administered in sugar cubes in the 1950s. The board game “Candy Land” was created for children who were stuck in polio wards for years.
Rotary International has made worldwide polio eradication its primary mission. Since its first project to vaccinate children in the Philippines in 1979, Rotary has reduced the number of cases of polio by 99.9 percent. So far in 2023, there have only been 10 cases worldwide. If all eradication efforts stopped today, within 10 years, polio could paralyze as many as 200,000 children each year.
Rotary has raised many millions of dollars, and currently is raising $50 million per year. The Gates Foundation matches Rotary two for one, adding another $100 million per year. Rotary has vaccinated over three billion children. Other organizations have joined the crusade as well — the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Speaker John Nanni contracted polio as a baby, before the polio vaccine was invented. His mother performed physical therapy on him every day, and he was eventually able to walk again, and even played sports in high school.
For every clinical case there are an estimated 200 sub-clinical cases where there are no symptoms but the individuals are carriers. The disease might hit them later on. “Post Polio Syndrome” is where the muscles affected by childhood polio are weakened in later life. While Mr. Nanni is in a wheelchair because of this, he considers himself lucky that he got to have a full life without being paralyzed in his prime.
Polio goes back to ancient Egypt, 3,500 years ago. The virus lives in water for two weeks, and enters the body through the mouth. There is no cure and no treatment. But a vaccine exists. A child needs to be vaccinated three times for it to be effective.
Rotary conducts National Immunization Days throughout the world. Recently, 30,000 volunteers vaccinated 35 million children in one day in Pakistan. This year, 660 million children throughout developing countries will have been vaccinated.
Rotary International has built a network of laboratories throughout the world to measure water samples to look for polio. This network was used to fight Covid over the past few years as well.
The Rotary Club of Westfield meets the first three Tuesdays of each month for lunch at noon at Limáni Seafood Grill, located at 235 North Avenue, Westfield. Guests are always welcome. For information, check out the website www.westfieldrotary.com or contact Club Secretary Dr. D. Michael Hart by email at email@example.com.