World Polio Day

Rotary ‘This Close’ to eradicating cases

The Inter-Mountain photo by Mark Branciaroli Members of the Rotary Club of Elkins pose after joining more than a million Rotarians worldwide Monday to bring awareness to World Polio Day and the final chapter on the war on polio. Rotarians worldwide have worked relentlessly to eradicate the disease and joined in a shout-out that they are ‘This Close’ to putting an end to the disease. The 2016 campaign brings awareness to the public that the fight does not end until the world is free of polio three years after the last case is recorded.

ELKINS — In our everyday lives, we seldom think of polio as an infectious disease that can cause paralysis and even death without warning.

But in the 1950s, polio was one of the most feared diseases in the United States. One can only imagine the fears mothers lived with as children were born into that fearful era.

Today, polio is nearly eradicated worldwide, due to the undaunting efforts of Rotary International and its partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

GPEI includes the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Many of these organizations have worked relentlessly since the 1980s battling the disease.

In 1985, Rotary International launched its PolioPlus program, the first initiative to tackle global polio eradication through the mass vaccination of children. In 1988, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was formed.

Submitted photo Albert B. Sabin with his oral poliovirus vaccine (OLAV).

Since that time, Rotary International has contributed more than $1.6 billion and countless volunteer hours to immunize more than 2.5 billion children in 122 countries.

As of 2013, GPEI had reduced polio worldwide by 99 percent, but that last 1 percent can be just as dangerous as the past 99 and the fight is far from over.

Rotary’s focus has always been on advocacy, fundraising, volunteer recruitment and awareness building, and these efforts have played a role in decisions by donor governments to contribute more than $7.2 billion to the effort.

World Polio Day was Monday, and marked a new milestone for the war on polio. Rotary Clubs worldwide raised their flags even higher and gave a shout-out to the world that they are “this close” to wiping out the disease. This 2016 campaign brings together 34,000 Rotary clubs in more than 200 countries.

What does this mean?

A 1.2 million-strong army of business and professional leaders, all volunteering their time and talents to serve their communities, is rallying under one campaign to strategically attack the last bastion of polio.

The Rotary Club of Elkins is part of the fearless army.

Ron LaNeve can be considered a captain in the Rotary Club of Elkins army fighting polio. A health care administrator with more than 50 years in health care and life sciences leadership roles under his belt, LaNeve is also a long-time Rotarian. Serving as president in 1986-87, 7530 District Governor from 1991-1992 and a member of the PolioPlus national committee, LaNeve has a long history of working with polio-stricken adults from around the world in the military and with children at a Pittsburgh children’s hospital.

When members have questions concerning any campaign associated in the fight to eradicate polio, they look to LaNeve for answers.

“Our local role in the ‘This Close’ campaign, as a club, is to raise $2,650 this year. District 7530 has 30 clubs, which comprises nearly 1,200 members. Multiply those numbers and the amount is substantial. Then, multiply 34,000 clubs worldwide, and we have some impressive numbers. Every dollar will be matched by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, two to one. Our $2,650 will then become $7,950. Multiply that by 34,000 clubs and we’re vaccinating a lot of people worldwide,” said LaNeve.

Only 27 cases worldwide have been reported in 2016 thus far — four in Nigeria, eight in Afghanistan and 13 in Pakistan, LaNeve said.

The July 2016 issue of Rotarian magazine noted that, “once the final case of polio is recorded, it will take three years to ensure that the last case is, in fact, the final one. That means if the final case is seen in 2018 (which is the goal of the World Health Organization), all programs will need to continue and will need funding and volunteers until 2020, at a price tag of $1.5 billion that will be funded by governments and donors such as Rotary. That’s in addition to the more than $1.5 billion Rotarians have contributed to the cause so far.”

Given these numbers, the fight must go on.