Rotary fighting to wipe out polio

Cayman’s four Rotary clubs and two Rotaract clubs are working together to raise funds for the End Polio Now campaign.

They join service clubs around the world in an effort to eradicate the highly infectious disease and to mark World Polio Day on Thursday, Oct. 24.

Polio causes paralysis and is sometimes fatal. It has no cure, so the best protection is prevention through vaccination, the campaign highlights.

“For as little as US60 cents worth of vaccine, a child can be protected against this crippling disease for life. After an international investment of more than US$9 billion, and the successful engagement of over 200 countries and 20 million volunteers, polio could be the first human disease of the 21st century to be eradicated,” a news release from Rotary stated.

The campaign aims to urge world leaders to “support the final push to achieve eradication now while the goal has never been closer, or face the potential consequences of a new polio pandemic that could disable millions of children within a decade.”

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation supports the initiative by matching every dollar raised by Rotary until 2017 with $2.

The latest Rotary campaign focuses on the world being “This Close” to eliminating polio.

Since 1985, Rotary has contributed nearly US$1.2 billion to the protection of more than two billion children in 122 countries. The disease remains endemic in three countries – Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan – although other countries remain at risk for imported cases.

The last cases identified in the Caribbean were in Haiti/Dominican Republic in 1991. Before a Caribbean vaccination drive, estimated deaths in Latin America/Caribbean in the 1970s totalled around 15,000 cases and 1,750 deaths a year.

The last recorded cases of polio in the Cayman Islands were in 1957. “We have remained polio-free ever since thanks to a vaccination program for all children, which continues today,” Rotary said.

Brac polio survivors

McNeil Hurlston and Ianthy Christian, who were both born on Cayman Brac, are survivors of polio.

In a recent interview with Dhallchand Seeram, president of the Rotary Club of Cayman Brac, they told of being infected with the disease when they were young.

Mr. Hurlston, who was born in Spot Bay in 1929, contracted polio when he was only 8 months old. “I had a high fever, but there were no hospitals or doctors on island so my parents and the older folks did the best for me,” he said. “I walked with a limp because my left leg was affected but I had many friends at school and no one tried to bully me.

“Of course, I was a big man and very strong and enjoyed boyhood days like nothing was wrong. I left school when I was about 16 years old and did gardener work before going to sea. At the age of about 20 years, I became an able-bodied seaman aboard the Kirkconnell Ships. I never missed a good time at every port.”

Mr. Hurlston eventually took up a security guard post at the airport in the early 1980s and held that position for 22 years.

Ms Christian, also born in 1929, began experiencing high fever and severe leg pains when she was about 2 or 3 years old. “My first experience was on a bright summer day when my sisters and I went to the Spot Bay seaside to play,” she said. “I was the smallest so they took special care of me and when I complained of pain, they rushed me home.

“My parents and neighbors did what they knew best and, with some medicines from the commissioner and dispenser Mr. Aston Rutty, I got some relief, but my left leg was paralyzed.”

She said she was not “terribly affected” by her disability and “moved quickly and energetically like the other girls.”

Ms Christian gets around these days with a walker and wheelchair, as well as with other aids. “There is more pressure on the good leg so I have to rest as often as is needed to prevent any accidental falls. I eat, sleep and see well and I don’t blame anyone for giving me polio.

“For me, this is normal and I feel I am going to live long and healthy until the Maker says I have to go.”