Rotary hears about worldwide efforts in the fight against polio

The Inter-Mountain photo by Brooke Binns Dr. Richard Goldberg, director of the West Virginia University Cancer Institute, speaks Monday to the Rotary Club of Elkins, which also received an update on the club’s international efforts to eradicate polio.

ELKINS — Today marks the fifth annual World Polio Day, as international leaders and Rotary Clubs around the globe continue to work toward their goal of eradicating the deadly disease.

Members of the Rotary Club of Elkins heard an update about the fight to end polio during the group’s regular meeting Monday, which took place at the Elkins-Randolph County YMCA.

Pat Schoonover, the club’s project chair and past president, said Rotary’s top priority is the global eradication of polio. That means Rotarians all over the world are sharing in efforts to wipe out the paralyzing and potentially fatal disease, which invades the nervous system and can cause total paralysis in a matter of hours. The incurable disease can strike at any age, but it mainly affects children under 5.

It is preventable with vaccines, but many populations remain at risk because of factors such as geographical isolation, poor public infrastructure, armed conflict and cultural barriers, according to a Rotary International fact sheet shared by Schoonover.

“We collect money worldwide to benefit this program,” Schoonover said Monday. “Whether it’s in Pakistan or in Africa, those Rotarians in the local Rotary clubs are actually involved in getting doctors and giving those vaccines. … Many Rotary clubs in the United States have volunteers that go overseas and help as well.”

In 1985, Rotary launched its PolioPlus program to tackle global polio eradication through mass vaccinations. At that time, the world saw about 1,000 cases per day, according to information from Rotary International.

Thirty-seven polio cases were confirmed worldwide in 2016 — a reduction of more than 99.9 percent since the 1980s, according to Rotary information. Rotary has contributed nearly $2 billion and countless volunteer hours to immunize more than 2.5 billion children in 122 countries.

Schoonover said the worldwide scope of the project is impressive, but it comes down to saving individuals.

“It only costs 60 cents to save one life. That’s all one shot is,” she said.

Working alongside Rotary in the fight to end polio are the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and governments of the world, according to information on Rotary’s website, www.rotary.org.

Rotary has a goal to raise $50 million per year over the next three years, with every dollar to be matched with two additional dollars from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. These funds will provide medical personnel, laboratory equipment, educational materials and support for the ongoing efforts to eradicate polio. Governments, corporations and private individuals all play a crucial role in funding, according to Rotary International information.

More information about World Polio Day is available online at www.endpolio.org.

During Monday’s meeting, Rotary Club members also heard about efforts to improve cancer care and research. Dr. Richard Goldberg, director of the West Virginia University Cancer Institute, shared a presentation with the club and talked about plans to expand cancer treatment options in the state.

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