On Tuesday, November 14, the Westfield Rotary Club heard a speaker about the terror of Polio. We all saw how fast another virus- COVID - spread around the world in just a few months. Polio was the most feared infectious disease in the 20th century. The Polio Virus infects the nerves going to muscles of young children, and paralyses them.

Entire hospital wards were filled with children in “Iron Lungs” to help them breathe. The song “Just a Spoonful of Sugar” in Mary Poppins was written about the polio vaccine being administered in sugar cubes the 1950’s. The board game “Candy Land” was created for children who were stuck in Polio wards for years.

Rotary International has made worldwide polio eradication its primary mission. Since its first project to vaccinate children in the Philippines in 1979, Rotary has reduced the number of cases of Polio by 99.9%. So far in 2023 there have only been 10 cases in the world, and it is hopeful to eradicate the disease soon. If all eradication efforts stopped today, within 10 years, polio could paralyze as many as 200,000 children each year.
Rotary has raised many millions of dollars, currently raising $50 million per year. The Gates Foundation matches Rotary two for one, adding another $100 million per year. Rotary has vaccinated over 3 billion children. Other organizations have joined the crusade as well - the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.
Speaker John Nanni got polio as a baby before the polio vaccine was invented. His mother did physical therapy on him every day, and he was eventually able to walk again, and even played sports (clumsily) in high school.
For every clinical case there are an estimated 200 sub-clinical cases where there are no symptoms, but they are carriers. The disease might hit them later in life. “Post Polio Syndrome” is where the muscles affected by childhood polio are weakened in later life. That is the reason John is in a wheelchair. John considers himself lucky that he got to have a full life without being paralyzed in his prime.
Polio goes back to ancient Egypt, 3,500 years ago. The virus lives in water for 2 weeks, and enters the body through the mouth. There is no cure and no treatment. But we do have a vaccine. A child needs to be vaccinated 3 times for it to be effective.
Rotary conducts National Immunization Days (NID’s) throughout the world. Recently 30,000 volunteers vaccinated 35 million children in one day in Pakistan. This year we will have vaccinated 660 million children throughout the developing countries.
Rotary International has built a network of laboratories throughout the world to measure water samples to look for polio. This network was used to fight the COVID over the past few years as well. Going forward, this world-wide infrastructure will be invaluable in fighting other diseases.
Currently, America has lower vaccination rates than India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Measles, which had been eradicated in America in 2019, saw resurgence with 1,300 cases last year. Vaccines work, and are very efficient from a public health perspective. The polio Vaccine is only 14 cents per dose, so $150 million per year, goes a long way.
Rotary plans to continue fighting Polio until it is completely eradicated. Only one other disease has been eradicated in history - smallpox.
The Rotary Club of Westfield meets the first three Tuesdays of each month for lunch at noon, at Limani Seafood Grill on North Ave. Guests are always welcome. For information check out the website www.westfieldrotary.com  or contact club secretary Dr. D. Michael Hart by email at drmhart@yahoo.com
Photo: Left to right: Speaker John Nanni, Rotary Club President Barbara Frantz, Esq.