The  Rollercoaster Ride of Polio Elimination

The drive to eliminate polio from the world forever seems like a rollercoaster ride with emotional highs and lows. This continued last year but with a high in the real progress made in Afghanistan and Pakistan and lows in Israel having a circulating vaccine paralysis case and Malawi having a wild polio case. Overall however we showed excellent progress by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.* Afghanistan cases dropped from 141 cases in 2020 to 4 cases in 2021. Pakistan has dropped to only 1 case in 2021. And it occurred in Jan. 2021 so Pakistan has been without a polio case for 14 months. Covid caused a hold in giving vaccinations for a few months so we were pleasantly surprised to see the drop in cases in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They probably occurred due to a decrease in travel.

A Plane Ride Away

You likely saw on line or on the news that a case of wild virus polio occurred in Africa in Malawi. The genetic tests of the virus showed the origin of the virus was  from Pakistan. This demonstrated the importation by international travel. The case has been surrounded by an emergency vaccination task force. It has encircled the case and is giving vaccination in concentric circles around the case until no more virus is detected in sewage and no cases in children. Africa still is considered polio free as the case is contained. This case graphically illustrates that “polio is just a plane ride away” from all of us. Another case of vaccine derived polio paralysis in Israel shows that a pocket of anti-vaxxers can put a large community at risk of polio. The case occurred in a group of Israelis who for religious reasons avoided vaccines. Groups like this could derail Rotary’s long and expensive effort to eliminate polio from the world. So please, please vaccinate your children and educate your family members to see their children are all vaccinated. Other favorable facts show that circulating virus polio cases decreased from 959 in 2020 to 38 cases in 2021.

Vaccinator Deaths in Afghanistan

Sadly the polio elimination drive saw the brutal killing of 9 more workers in Afghanistan. I personally got to meet some of the brave Afghan women vaccinators two years ago and saw how strong and committed they are to getting rid of the scourge of polio. And they all were well aware that they could be giving the ultimate sacrifice. Please tell your clubs about them and their bravery. I hope there can be money raised in their name by our clubs and district so we can be sure their lives have not been given in vane. I also hope you can talk to your members about the fact that groups of unvaccinated children could bring polio back to the United States and ruin the effort to eliminate polio from the world for good. We must continue vaccinating every child in the US.

*Global Polio Eradication Initiative members are; Rotary International, the Gates Foundation,UN WHO and UNICEF and US CDC.

Willis Sutliff, District Polio Plus Chair