Rotary clubs around the world are celebrating a global health milestone as India marked three years since its last case of wild polio on Jan. 20. The event is expected to lead to the nation being dropped from the list of polio-endemic countries later this year.
Polio, short for Poliomyelitis, is a vaccine-preventable disease which usually infects children under age 5 when they drink contaminated water. The virus attacks the central nervous system, causing paralysis, muscular atrophy, deformation and, in some cases, death.
While the infectious disease no longer plagues the majority of the world, it still remains endemic in Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Since 1985, Rotary International, a nonprofit organization, has spent more than $1.2 billion worldwide on the End Polio Now campaign.
Cayman’s four Rotary clubs and two Rotaract clubs are all helping in this effort.
The Rotary Club of Grand Cayman Central has raised more than $500,000 to support the End Polio Now campaign.
“We raise the funds, and those funds help support the End Polio Now campaign and … help the vaccinators on the ground in Afghanistan,” said Naude Dreyer, president of the Rotary Club of Grand Cayman Central.
Dr. Dreyer, who has been volunteering since 1985, believes in the “magic” of Rotary. “As a Rotarian, there are so many ways you can help. You can sign up go on tours to administer [polio] vaccinations to the children in the remaining endemic countries or you can donate funds to the campaign. This is such a big organization: I, Dr. Dreyer in the Cayman Islands, can do virtually nothing to eradicate polio, but by belonging to an organization like Rotary, it’s like taking hands with a million people around the world,” she said.
In response to India’s recent polio-free declaration, Dr. Dreyer said, “It’s so exciting. We are really this close [to ending polio]. India has just officially been declared polio free, and we’ve had that happen with one country after the other over the last 30 years. Polio was initially everywhere in the world and now it’s just three places,” he said.
Dr. Dreyer also stressed the importance of Rotary’s efforts in containing the virus. “If the Rotary gives up, then the disease will come back to haunt us all, I might one day have grandchildren who could be affected if we don’t get rid of this disease.
“Rotary has the means now with the World Health Organization to actually eradicate polio and make the world polio free,” he said.
Companies or individuals interested in getting involved can join all four Rotary clubs in the Cayman Islands, together with two Rotaract clubs and the EarlyAct club in a “Bed Race” to eradicate polio on Saturday, Feb. 15. The event takes place at Camana Bay, where members of the public can participate by entering a team of six, building a bed and racing it down the main street. All proceeds will benefit Rotary International’s Polio Eradication program.