Features, South Africa

World Polio Day Highlights the Importance of Vaccinations

On World Polio Day we should recognise the great success that one vaccine has had towards eliminating an incurable but preventable disease.

World Polio Day - EHN

Members of the Rotary Club of Claremont explain why today on World Polio Day we should recognise the great success that one vaccine has had towards eliminating an incurable but preventable disease.

The Rotary Club of Claremont forms part of a global network of over 35,000 clubs who work on projects that have a real, lasting impact on people’s lives.

Wild poliovirus is an infectious disease that occurs mainly in children, targeting the nervous system and causing paralysis. In the 1980s, 1,000 cases of polio were reported globally every day. This figure has been reduced by 99.9% to just 37 reported cases of polio last year.

The virus has been eradicated globally except in Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan where transmission of the virus has not been successfully stopped yet.

“Geographical isolation, poor public infrastructure, armed conflict and cultural barriers are all factors that make it difficult to prevent transmission of the disease, and until polio is totally eradicated, all countries remain at risk of outbreaks,” said President of the Rotary Club of Claremont and a former Community Nurse, Liz Rose.

South Africa has been polio-free for over 20 years, due to immunisation against polio as part of the normal vaccination schedule, as well as periodic specific campaigns in which booster doses are given to children. Healthcare workers are vigilant in detecting any signs of paralysis in children.

Rotary is part of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), a public-private partnership that also includes the World Health Organisation (WHO), UNICEF, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and governments around the world. “Together, through global collaboration, much has already been achieved to eradicate this disease,” said Rose.

The Rotary Club of Claremont has donated a total of R350,000 over the past six years to Rotary International’s Polio Plus Project, which aims to totally eliminate polio. This year the Club is donating R100,000 towards the Project.

“The end is in sight, but we are not there yet,” said Past President of the Rotary Club of Claremont and former UNICEF representative, Tom Bergmann-Harris. Bergmann-Harris has worked closely on many polio eradication campaigns over the years.

“Smallpox has been eradicated through huge effort and now it only exists in laboratories. Polio is very close to becoming a success story, like smallpox, but much is still required to totally eliminate the disease. We must not slow down now, we must see it through to the end,” said Bergmann-Harris.

“We must ensure that not a single child is left unvaccinated. Polio is incurable but completely vaccine-preventable. While we celebrate World Polio Day and the success of the vaccine, we are equally aware that the fight is not yet over,” concluded Rose.

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