Rotary deserves credit for efforts to end polio

October 23, 2013 

A few weeks ago, I received one of the greatest honors or awards in my life, when the Rotary Club of Centerville made me an honorary member.

From the first time I was invited to a meeting to help promote Rotary, I felt a kinship with the organization because of its commitment to wipe polio off the face of the earth.

As the child of parents who grew up in the days when polio was common, I had heard plenty of stories from my parents about swimming pools being closed or friends stricken with the disease. But it was the stories my mother told about the woman whose name I carry that made an impact on me from the time I was a small child.

Alline Cleveland Jones, my mother’s grandmother, was stricken with polio at the age of 1, in 1886. Although she survived the disease, she was crippled, a condition that worsened over the course of her life. Bravely, she carried on with her life, marrying and raising eight children.

Polio has all but disappeared in the United States. According to the CDC, the last cases of naturally occurring paralytic polio in the United States were in 1979.

But polio is still a problem worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. There are countries in the world where polio is still transmitted. Because polio is highly contagious, a single case could spread through unimmunized populations. There is no cure for polio; it can only be prevented through vaccinations.

Because it is a problem in other countries -- that makes it a problem for the United States as well. At least eight cases have been reported in the United States since 1979 of “imported polio” -- meaning the person contacted the disease in another country and returned to the United States.

Rotary has been a partner in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative since 1988, along with WHO, UNICEF and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While Rotary has many charitable activities, the group’s top philanthropic priority is to eradicate polio worldwide.

Since its initiative to end polio worldwide started, Rotary has contributed $1 billion to the effort.

World Polio Day was established by Rotary International and is held on Oct. 24 in celebration of the birth of Dr. Jonas Salk, the man who led the effort to develop a polio vaccine.

Bob Griggers, immediate past District Governor for District 6920 South and Coastal Georgia, said that the day is about awareness that polio is still out there.

“We think of polio as a thing of the past. You show a child a picture of an iron lung and they can’t tell you what it is, didn’t know it existed. But it is not something we can take for granted,” Griggers said.

To learn more about the efforts to end polio, join in a live stream at www.endpolio.org on Thursday from 6:30-8 p.m.

Hosted by Rotary and Northwestern University, speakers will include physicians, polio survivors and Rotary members.

Next time you see a Rotarian -- shake their hand and thank them for their dedication to wiping polio off the face of the earth.

Contact Alline Kent at 396-2467 or allinekent@cox.net.

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