In March of this year, the World Health Organization declared the Southeast Asia region polio-free — a huge milestone in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative’s goal of delivering a polio-free world by 2018.

Because of the commitment by service groups, governments, health agencies and many other partners worldwide, 1.8 billion people in the region’s 11 countries are at a much lesser risk of contracting the virus.

This also means that those living in neighbouring countries, particularly where there is movement across borders due to political unrest or natural disaster, are at less risk of infection.

With travel throughout the world so frequent and easily done, this also guards against spread on a much larger scale.

Polio is spread when the stool of an infected person is introduced into the system of another person through contaminated water or food (fecal-oral transmission). Oral-oral transmission by way of an infected person’s saliva may account for some cases as well.

People living in poorer countries where there are no sanitary water systems or where people must live in refugee camps for a variety of reasons are at the greatest risk for transmission of the disease.

Since 1985, Rotarians all over the world have led the battle against polio, and kept the pressure on as worldwide cases plummeted from 350,000 per year to several hundred. When India went off the list of endemic countries in 2012, Rotary took one more step toward eradicating a human disease from the Earth for only the second time in history.

Now, Rotary and its partners are close to making that dream a reality. Local Rotarians have supported this initiative each year. In 2004, members travelled to India to participate in the National Immunization Day. Rotary has helped over 2.5 billion children receive immunization worldwide.

There are only three endemic countries left: Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan.
On Oct. 15 of this year, Pakistan reported 19 new cases of polio, bringing the total number of cases of paralysis by the wild poliovirus (WPV1) in 2014 to 206. That’s up from the 39 reported by October of 2013.

To date, 22 million children have been immunized multiple times in the last year, which is significant due to the active conflict and crises in the Pakistan region.
Two new cases were reported in the past week in Afghanistan, bringing the total number of WPV1 cases in 2014 to 12.

Nigeria, which is the third endemic country, had no new cases; its total remains at six. Six out of seven other non-endemic countries on watch have reported 19 new cases in total as well.
In Canada, the U.S., the former Soviet Union, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand, more than 76,000 cases of paralytic polio were reported in 1955. By 1967, due to immunizations, only 1,013 cases were reported. By 1991, the poliovirus was declared eradicated from the Western Hemisphere.

Until the virus has been eliminated worldwide, the risk to Canadians remains high and immunization in childhood is recommended.

Merritt’s two local Rotary clubs have contributed to this cause on an annual basis.
This Friday, Oct. 24, local Rotarians will be at the corner of Voght Street and Nicola Avenue with “End Polio Now” signs to raise awareness and to collect donations for the cause. Please honk to show your support.

If immunization and eradication does not continue, this virus may once again become active in our region.

For more information on the Rotary clubs in Merritt, please contact [email protected].