Rotary works to eradicate polio; local clubs do their part

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Quitman Rotary Club will be hosting a spaghetti dinner at First Methodist Church on Thursday, Nov. 7 in observance of World Polio Day, to raise awareness funds. Plates will cost $10 and be available for pickup at the Joy Hall from 5-7 p.m. 

The dreaded poliovirus peaked with a vengeance in the 1950s, starting with infants before moving to children and adults. A tank respirator, better known as the iron lung, saved many lives by helping patients who were unable to breathe on their own when the virus paralyzed the muscle groups in the chest.

After Dr. Jonas Salk developed a vaccine that would immunize without infecting patients, researcher Albert Sabin created an oral vaccine that could reach millions more people worldwide. The oral vaccine was inexpensive, easy to administer and produced excellent results. It became the vaccine of choice in many countries by 1962.

Immunizing a village was simple, but immunizing millions was difficult. The 41st World Health Assembly adopted a resolution to eradicate polio worldwide. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative was spearheaded by several governments, WHO, Rotary International, US Center for Disease Control and Prevention and UNICEF.

Later, they were joined by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Since 1985, Rotary has contributed more than $1.5 billion to polio eradication efforts. When the initiative started, more than 350,000 people were stricken by polio every year, with nearly 1,000 new polio cases every day. 

Since that time, largely due to the funding support of Rotary International and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, wild poliovirus cases have been reduced by 99.9%.

Only 21 cases in 2018 and 16 cases so far in 2019 have been reported.

Only two countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan, have been unable to completely control the paralyzing disease.

If health workers can root the wild poliovirus out of these two last strongholds, polio is poised to be only the second human disease ever eradicated, after smallpox.

The mission of Rotary has remained the same for over 100 years – to serve.

On a local level, the Mineola Rotary Club provides scholarships to deserving MISD seniors, partners with the Salvation Army Christmas Bell Ringers, plants trees to beautify the community and sets up an iron lung display at the Mineola Iron Horse Festival among many other outreach programs.

The Quitman Rotary Club has set up the iron lung display at other area events including the annual Old Settlers Reunion.

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