World Polio Day 2020 Global Update - YouTube
John Farrow, program MC
World Polio Day October 24th
We are doing an annual presentation to maintain our polio eradication focus. It is the largest non-military operation in the world. Four organizations are key: the WHO, the CDC, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Rotary International. Bernie will share some statistics on where we stand and give some history. Sean will give some of the science, and John will end with recommendations on what we can do.
Bernie: This is to remind us of how bad polio has been. How did Rotary and polio get together? 1974, there was a great fear in the Philippines that all children would get polio. One Rotary club there decided to ask Rotary International to help. Some Rotarians went to the Philippines to give the Salk vaccine. In the world, there were then an average of 360,00 cases annually. They stopped polio in the Philippines, the first country totally cleared of polio.
When the Rotary International board was trying to figure out what the major RI project would be in 2005, they decided polio would be our target. The goal was $120M; but us stupid Rotarians didn’t listen to them and drew in $261M! Then around the world, vaccines kept coming in. We had national immunizations days where volunteer Rotarians paid their own way to a foreign country, hosted by Rotarians, and vaccinated children under age 5. Little by little, the world got better and better. There are some very sad pictures, for me two particular ones: a young boy with a crutch—the last polio victim in Venezuela. The second, only 3 years ago in Pakistan, a father refused to have his children vaccinated. On day 11 of vaccinations there, the father walked in to one of clinics carrying his eldest boy, crippled, in his arms, asking that the boy be cured. That could not happen.
I personally got involved following the Munich convention, because I had in 1953 two cousins, young ladies, crippled by polio. Their father, a doctor had immunized them, but too late. Since then, in this club and in the three others I’ve been in, I have been enjoyed raising money for polio, including District chair for two of the ventures to raise money.
In 2017, we were down to 20 cases, then 33 cases in 2018, and a big jump in 2019, 176 cases. In 2020, we have 129 so far including four cases last week. I get the WHO bulletin every Thursday. Of current cases, there are 77 in Pakistan, 52 in Afghanistan. People at the border still fear the immunization; they fear it is something against the male population. As long as we can’t break this myth, it will keep going. We believe that over the years, about 300,000 children are walking today because of what we did for them. If we were to stop immunization, in 10 years it is estimated that we would be back to an average of 400,000 cases per year. It was wonderful this summer to see that Africa as a whole was declared free. Nigeria was the last country. Now we are left with Pakistan and Afghanistan. All cases are along the border. For them polio is but a walk a way. For us, it’s a flight away. In Afghanistan only one case was found north of the capital. All other cases are on the border. We must carry on. We hope that the push to raise more money—we’ve raised over $2B in last 30 years—with our partnership of the WHO and Gates Foundation. There are no words to describe what happens to young children. In our club, Terry Hicks is one successful survivor. He was told he would never walk again. He fooled them.
John Farrow: The video done a couple of weeks ago with Jennifer Jones and others included comments about Afghanistan and Pakistan. The RI President met with the new President of Pakistan who admitted they had dropped the ball on preventing misinformation on Facebook and other social media but have shut that down and have committed to doing better. In Afghanistan, former RI President John Germ said we have to get the Taliban on side. The people there have to own this program. We can’t just go in as Westerners and say we’re going to do this; get out of our way.
Sean Goodall: What is polio? There are three types of virus in the system. Types 2 and 3 have been eradicated and the vaccination has changed on them. Type 1 makes up 100% of current cases. Polio has been around since the time of the ancient Egyptians. In 1916, 20,000 people in New York City were paralyzed from polio. In the USA, 700 died. Humans have shed the virus through their stools, so transmission is closely related to sanitation. Starting in 1955, the Salk Vaccine came into existence and was administered through injection. In 1960 the Sabine oral vaccine came out, allowing many more people to give it, including through Rotary and national immunization days.
Why did Rotary focus on polio? The book, A Century of Service has an entire chapter on Polio. Rotary began working with crippled children, with a strong association with Easter Seals. Rotary started smaller campaigns, including working in the Philippines with Imelda Marcos (The Shoe Lady), the Minister of Health. Neither the WHO nor Rotary were comfortable with the global effort. Rotary wanted to retain autonomy of individual clubs in service direction, but then decided to go on after the work in the Philippines. It was the first time Rotary started looking for major gifts.
Why eradication, not just control? In the 1988 RI Convention, RI moved from control to eradication. As Bernie said, polio is only a walk or plane-ride away. Right now, as of a 2019 report, there are 70.8 million people displaced—people on the move. Syrian refugees are being monitored very closely because they are living in appalling conditions ripe for the spread of this virus and other viruses. We also have to face the anti-vaccine movement. The United States is about to lose its measly-free declaration because many think that vaccines are dangerous or not important. The last case of polio in Europe was in 2015 in the Ukraine. In 2016, during the World Cup, the virus was discovered in the sewage system. The WHO continuously monitors the sewage system in 34 high-risk countries.
Why do we use an oral vaccine? It is much easier to administer and friendlier to receive. It is better at controlling outbreaks and conferring herd immunity and helping to stop transmission. In rare cases, the vaccine can mutate and cause the vaccine to drive polio; there’s always a small risk. Once we have eradicated polio—$4.2B is targeted for the final push—we will move to training on using injected vaccines, dead vaccines, when all dead vaccine doses have been destroyed. Why do we keep vaccine in eradicated areas? The World Heath Organization investigates of 100,000 cases of paralysis each year to determine possible causes, including polio. This is the largest non-military effort in history. After the last case, we wo;; continue to vaccinate in the 60 highest risk countries and will continue to monitor the causes of paralysis. We will replace the live oral vaccine with the injected dead vaccine. The polio program will continue to monitor the virus that is stored around the world, making sure it is secure and not getting in the wrong hands.
What is the “plus” in Polio Plus? See the October 2019 Rotarian. Vaccination has left a legacy of health-care improvements in countries that were immunized. Some needed clean water more than vaccine, so bringing clean water was part of the work. Survivors needed help finding work. Medication is often included with the polio vaccine, including Vitamin A, which prevented an estimated 1.25M deaths from other diseases. Surveillance systems in place have been used to thwart other outbreaks such as Ebola in Nigeria and Yellow Fever. Often vaccination is accompanied with bed net distribution, which often brings parents out so they can also have their children immunized  . Malaria could be next thing we are trying to eliminate. Survivors are the best advocates for vaccination.
John Farrow: We will have to keep vaccinating 450M children a year until eradication is achieved. With COVID-19, the costs of polio vaccination have increased by 10% because of additional training and PPE. We may see increased cases because we can’t get to everyone needing vaccination. In places like Africa, the existing polio eradication infrastructure has pivoted to fight COVID-19. A lot of African countries have much lower infection rates of COVID-19. The Infrastructure for polio has certainly helped.
Concerting vaccine hesitancy,  social media have good and bad aspects. After a Russian disinformation campaign in Ukraine, the vaccination rate for childhood diseases went down from 96% to 39% within about one year. They had huge outbreaks of measles and other childhood diseases, although no reported polio cases. Such campaigns hurt us. If you’re a social media user, share the word about polio. We’ve seen all the things that can go wrong in a pandemic—the anti-vaccine movement and unrestricted transmission of a virus. We’re seeing how important Polio Plus is. In the video we watched, Jennifer Jones challenged us to do five things. The first was to his a World Polio Day event. Write your local government officials. Polio eradication shouldn’t be political. The Canadian government has recently earmarked $190M more for polio eradication. The US has allotted a lot more money as well. Share. Write an op-ed piece. Share on your local news paper.  View the World Polio live streaming event this Saturday. Create a fund-raiser. Can we do more as a club? Our club does an annual donation. Fifty-three percent of clubs give, but only 9% of Rotarians actually contribute to Polio Plus. Would someone like to do a small fundraiser in October?
Useful links;
Polio Eradication in 2020 youtube video
Website of the GPEI
Polio eradication section of
Google ‘raise for Rotary’ or go to
For fundraising ideas for Polio and beyond
To donate to Polio Plus – log in to myrotary to have your donation added to your Rotary account
The Vaccine Alliance
John Gale: You’ll be hearing from me about challenges. Set targets, including for the Foundation.
Ana: Thanks to all who were happy. $202 was committed. Please top it up and send to Rick. He will send it in as separate item. Use the password: polio