We are THIS close to eradicating Polio

Rotary D9550 – Together we can help eradicate Polio!

Ending Polio has not been a simple task however.  Eradicating the last 1% of cases has been likened to “squeezing jelly to death”, given the multi-faceted difficulties inherent in the task.

 

 

First there are the geographic and logistical issues. Reaching widely dispersed populations in remote regions in some of the world’s poorest countries is no easy task. Sheer numbers of children to immunise across a country as populous as India conspire with elements like treacherous terrains, lack of infrastructure, the availability of vaccine, the unaccountability of public health officials, mistrust of medicine and medical workers and violent, hostile or unsafe environments to make a tough venture even tougher.

The “numbers struggle” involves immunising enough children so that a community gains what is known as “herd immunity” – when enough members of the group are vaccinated that the virus struggles to find another susceptible host to infect and subsequently dies out before further transmission to a broader group is possible.  In other words, without its next human host, polio ends.

Community scepticism and distrust due to political and cultural beliefs as well as local rumours, myths and religious decrees have also been key obstacles to immunisation efforts.  Whether they be local fears of immunisation causing sterility in girls in Nigeria, rumours of the immunisation programs being a CIA ruse in Pakistan, or Taliban-ordered fatwas against immunisation in Afghanistan, parental and community attitudes have been a key determinant of immunisation rates.  Indeed polio immunisation workers have been threatened, beaten and killed while trying to help communities protect their own children.

While change has been slow, hope is emerging on the horizon. The effort to protect children in countries where fundamentalism and anti-Western sentiment are barriers to polio immunisation  has recently been given a boost, with the Taliban renouncing its opposition to polio vaccination and publicly declaring its support for eradication efforts by polio vaccination workers.

And finally there is the financial cost, estimated at US$1 billion dollars every year. While Rotary’s contributions make up a substantial portion of the yearly global polio eradication budget (and exceed the contributions of most individual G20 nations), Rotary’s advocacy has been even more influential, resulting in in more than US$7.8 billion to date in polio-specific grants from the public sector and consolidation of a partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that will see the foundation commit a further US$1.8 billion in coming years. Rotary envisages that its own contributions to the global polio eradication effort will exceed US$1.2 billion by the time the world is certified polio-free.

Of course that’s not to mention the countless hours and resources Rotarian volunteers worldwide devote every year to ending polio, both by fundraising in local communities and working internationally at the coal-face providing oral vaccinations to children. Simply put, Rotary remains one of the easiest channels through which everyday people can get involved in fighting polio, a fight which will be won by vaccinating one child at a time.

But the costs pale in comparison to the substantial dividends that a polio-free world would gain. Financial savings from the forgone costs of treating polio could exceed $1 billion per year, while a 2010 study published in leading medical journal Vaccine estimated the economic benefits of halting polio to amount to US$40-50 billion.

Ultimately, the biggest saving wrought from eradicating polio will be the humanitarian one. Ending polio forever will be an achievement that enables millions of children to fulfil their potential and live lives free from the burden of polio-related disability – a life that all children deserve.