Clydesdale Rotary Clubs are helping to eradicate polio

Eradicating polio...has been a mission for Rotary Clubs for more than 30 years and, with only 10 cases last year, it's now well within touching distance.
Eradicating polio...has been a mission for Rotary Clubs for more than 30 years and, with only 10 cases last year, it's now well within touching distance.

For more than 30 years Rotarians world-wide have been waging war on polio and they are now moving ever closer to eradicating the disease entirely.

Since the organisation and its partners launched the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, the incidence of polio has plummeted by more than 99.9 percent.

Local, national and international campaign to eradicate polio around the world has been led by Rotary.

Local, national and international campaign to eradicate polio around the world has been led by Rotary.

Cases have dropped from 350,000 a year in 125 countries to just 37 cases in 2016 in three remaining polio-endemic countries – Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.

Last year, only 10 cases were reported and the optimism of eradicating the virus entirely is such that Bill Gates, whose charitable foundation is backing the campaign, even forecast recently that the world would this year see its last case of polio.

Clubs locally are playing their part in the final push to ward off polio forever.

They will be raising funds and awareness over the next year as part of the Purple4Polio campaign, a reference to the colour of the dye placed on the little finger of a child’s left hand to show they have been immunised against polio.

With millions of children to vaccinate, this makes it easier to see who has been protected and who has not.

Among other activities throughout the next 12 months, local clubs will be selling purple crocuses for people to wear to show their support.

In Clydesdale all three of the area’s Rotary Clubs – Lanark, Carluke and Biggar – have been involved in the campaign for many years, raising thousands of pounds for the international eradication drive.

In Lanark, for example. just about every fundraising event the club runs sees a ‘cut’ of the proceeds going to the polio campaign.

Bill Hazel, the club’s secretary, said members’ efforts date back to the very start of the appeal, right back before most of the current membership even joined Rotary.

He said: “There have been a few specific drives on behalf of the polio appeal including a charity collection session at the town’s Tesco branch some years ago which was very successful.

“Other fundraisers from which the appeal will benefit include what has become an annual tradition with Rotarians selling onto friends and family boxes of perhaps the town’s most famous product, Border Biscuits.

“These boxes are very kindly donated each year to Rotary by the biscuit firm at a discount.”

Another initiative which is bringing in the cash for the polio appeal and other worthy causes has turned Lanark Rotarians into part-time art dealers.

The club managed to acquire a quantity of pictures of the Three Bridges now spanning the Firth of Forth at Queensferry – the original Forth Bridge, the 1960s road bridge and the new and spectacular Queensferry Crossing.

These, again, are being sold to friends and family to raise charity cash.

The Lanark club is also looking to the future by exploiting its proximity and friendly relations with Lanark Grammar School.

It has introduced a Rotakid scheme in which Grammar pupils, with Rotary’s support, run an annual fundraising Purple Pinkie appeal for the anti-polio crusade.

Rotary globally has committed to raising £40 million per year over the next three years in support of global polio eradication efforts.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which became involved with Rotary’s campaign in 2003, will match Rotary’s commitment by 2:1, so every £1 donated by the public becomes £3.

The danger is that, without this co-ordinated campaign, funding and political commitment, this paralysing disease could return to previously polio-free countries, including the UK, and put more children at risk once again.

More than 50,000 UK Rotarians, and even more globally, have been instrumental in the effort to rid the world of polio.

Rotary brought the partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative together to start the campaign more than 30 years ago and has continued to ceaselessly raise funds and awareness.

Rotary has contributed more than $1.7 billion to ending polio since 1985.

Everywhere there’s a Rotary, members are involved and, at the end, they’ll all be able to hold their hands up and say that they’ve helped to eradicate polio ... not something many will be able to say.

Polio: a life-changing illness

Although it used to be common in the UK, cases of the disease reduced drastically after routine vaccination against it was introduced in the 1950s and there have been no cases caught in the UK since the 1990s.

The infection is still found in some parts of the world, however, and there is still a small risk that it could be brought back to the UK.

Most people with polio do not show symptoms and will not know that they are infected, but for up to one in 100 it can have devastating consequences and lead to temporary or even permanent paralysis, which can be life-threatening.

There is currently no cure for polio which is why Rotary worldwide has taken up the cause to vaccinate as many people as possible.

It can be transmitted by coming into contact with the faeces of an infected person or by airborne transmission when they cough and sneeze.

Polio often passes quickly without causing any other problems, however, it can sometimes lead to persistent or lifelong difficulties and around one in every 200 people with the infection will have some degree of permanent paralysis.

Others may be left with problems that require long-term treatment and support including muscle weakness, shrinking of the muscles, tight joints and deformities such as twisted feet or legs.

Someone who has already had polio can also develop similar symptoms again, or worsening of their existing symptoms, many years later.

Other areas declared polio-free include Europe, the Americas, the western Pacific region and southeast Asia.

But polio is still a significant problem in Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan, with a risk of infection in other parts of Africa and some Middle Eastern countries.