By Becky Killian / Editor
By the year 2015, polio will be eradicated from the world.
That’s the target date set by Rotary International and the World Health Organization in the largest public health initiative in history, according to Joe Caldwell of the Rotary Club of Corbin.
Caldwell updated Rotary members on the service organization’s ongoing effort against the crippling disease during the Corbin chapter’s meeting Thursday at David’s Steakhouse. The meeting coincided with World Polio Day.
The Rotary Foundation, along with WHO, began a major fundraising drive in 1985 to fund polio eradication efforts. Since then, there’s been a 99 percent reduction in the number of polio cases but experts warn if the disease isn’t eradicated it could rebound.
Joe Caldwell talked about an August trip to Fairbanks, Alaska, during which he and his wife, Lola Caldwell, attended a Rotary meeting. The speaker was Ann Lee Hussey, who contracted polio when she was 18 months old. Hussey talked about her school years, saying she endured taunts from other students and shared the many surgeries she had as a girl. Yet today, Hussey said she endures mobility limitations because of muscle loss due to the disease.
Polio emerged as a problem in the late 19th century and continued into the 20th century. It wasn’t until 1955 that Caldwell said Jonas Salk developed a vaccine against the disease. The availability of the vaccine led to a drastic decline in polio cases.
The Americas were declared polio-free in 1994 and Europe followed in 2002: however, the disease continues to be a problem in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria — areas where humanitarian efforts against the disease can be difficult.
To prevent the reemergence of the disease, Rotary International continues the effort it began in 1978 to raise money and to provide volunteers to international destinations in polio-eradication efforts.
The service group’s fundraising has been aided by a 2-to-1 matching grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for every dollar donated to Rotary.
Caldwell said Rotarians are urged to set aside a quarter a day — along with an extra quarter on Rotary meeting days. That allows a member to save $100 a year to donate to polio eradication efforts.
“It doesn’t take much to add up little bits,” Caldwell said.
Caldwell also cautioned Rotarians how easily a case of polio could be contracted and carried to another destination.
“It’s just an airline trip to or from somewhere else,” Caldwell said.