Rotary Gears Up to Eradicate Polio

Published in the Woonsocket Call on October 16, 2016

Just days ago, Louis A. Marciano came to St. Paul’s Church on a mission to get his fellow Pawtucket Rotarians more involved in Rotary International’s efforts to create a polio-free world. Marciano, a former Mount Pleasant High School football player, a coach, a World War 11 veteran who fought in the Pacific Theater and a Rotarian for over 44 years, came to publicize the upcoming World Polio Day on October 24 and give an update on the international service organization’s efforts to eradicate Polimyelitis (polio).

Polio is a paralyzing and potentially fatal infectious disease that still threatens children in some parts of the world. The poliovirus invades the nervous system and can cause total paralysis in a matter of hours. It can strike at any age but mainly affects children under five. Polio is incurable, but completely vaccine-preventable. The infectious disease is found mostly in lower-income countries where poor sanitation and limited access to clean water facilitate the spread of the virus.

A Call for Action at
the Pawtucket Rotary Club

Marciano’s calls for assistance in raising funds to pay for polio inoculations for children and ratcheting up the awareness for Rotary’s efforts is not new. For over four decades, the former Rotary club president District 7950 Governor, has taken his fund raising campaign to end polio to 66 clubs in Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts. His efforts has received attention from his national headquarters, too. The North Providence Rotarian cherishes the Soccer Ball award “Kick Polio out of Africa” presented to him in 1998 for his efforts to eradicate Poliomyelitis

Some say that it may well “Takes a Village” to marshal the resources needed to make a world-wide impact. Over 1.2 million Rotary members belonging to 34,000 clubs world-wide work together to raise funds, advocate for government support, serve as volunteers to help immunize children, and raise awareness in their communities, said Marciano to his audience of Pawtucket Rotarians.

At the podium, the Cranston resident rattled off specifics as to why this global effort is important and is succeeding. Ending polio will save lives, is a very good investment, and most important is achievable, says Marciano.

Marciano notes, India is a prime example of one of the greatest Rotary International’s achievements in wiping out polio. “There were zero cases of polio in 2010 in India and they have been polio-free for nearly six years,” he says, noting that the World Health Organization has officially certified India polio-free in 2014. [According to Devin Thorpe in his March 15, 2014 article published in Forbes, in the 1980s there were approximately 150,000 cases of polio every year in India]

Marciano also announced the upcoming fourth annual world Polio Day event, co-hosted with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to be held on Oct. 24. The event streaming live from CDC headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, is expected to bring together more than 50,000 viewers around the world to learn from celebrities and experts about the progress to eradicate polio. For information about World Polio, go to http://www.endpolio.org.

While winding down his talk, Marciano acknowledges that there is still work to do but Rotary is moving closer to its goal of finally wiping polio from the face of the earth.

Carol Pandak, Director of Rotary’s PolioPlus program, agrees with Marciano’s assessment. “For more than 30 thirty years, Rotary has harnessed the dedication of community leaders around the world in support of polio eradication. When we started this effort, nearly 1,000 children a day were paralyzed by this disease. Today, there have been only 27 cases [Afghanistan (8); Nigeria (4); Pakistan (15)] in the whole world. Rotary remains fully committed to this important effort until every child is protected from this disease.”

From the Beginning

Rotary’s effort to eradicate polio began in 1979, with a multi-year project to immunize six million children in the Philippines. The international service organizations, “PolioPlus program, was established in 1985.

As indicated by the “plus” in PolioPlus, Rotarians also provide support for related health services, such as distributing Vitamin A and zinc tablets, providing bed nets to prevent malaria, assisting with preventative inoculations for other diseases, including measles, rubella, mumps, tuberculous, and other childhood diseases. The “plus” also means a system of advocacy and fundraising, and infrastructure and partnerships that will support the fight against infectious disease long after polio is gone.

Rotary also works closely with partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), including the World Health Organization (WHO), the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), UNICEF, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the governments of the world in this public health initiative.

Today, Rotary has given more than $1.6 billion to immunize more than two billion children against polio in 125 countries to wipe the infectious disease from the face of the earth. It is estimated that Rotary’s advocacy efforts have played a role in decisions by countries to contribute more than $7.2 billion to the effort.

Rotary’s polio initiative has also caught the attention of others. As far back as 2008, one of America’s biggest philanthropists came to the table to fight the war against polio. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced that every dollar Rotary committed to polio eradication would be matched two-to-one by the Foundation up to $35 million a year through 2018. Since this Foundation began its partnership with Rotary more than $2 billion has been contributed to Rotary’s polio eradication effort.

These funds help to provide much-needed operational support, medical personnel, laboratory equipment.

Public figures and celebrities have also joined Bill & Melinda Gates as ambassadors to help educate the public about polio through public service announcements, social media and public appearances. They include: Kristen Bell and Archie Panjabi; WWE superstar John Cena; supermodel Isabeli Fontana; Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu; action movie star Jackie Chan; boxing great Manny Pacquiao; pop star Psy; golf legend Jack Nicklaus; conservationist Jane Goodall; premier violinist Itzhak Perlman; Grammy Award winners A.R. Rahman; Angelique Kidjo and Ziggy Marley; and peace advocate Queen Noor of Jordan. These ambassadors help educate the public about polio through public service announcements, social media and public appearances.

Until polio is eradicated, all countries remain at risk of outbreaks, says Marciano.

Experts say that $1.5 billion is urgently needed to sustain the polio eradication initiative. Without full funding and political will power, polio could return to previously polio-free countries, putting children at risk contracting this paralyzing disease. From every corner of the globe Rotarians are gearing up on October 24 to garner support to wipe polio out, once and for all.

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