by Bob Groeneveld
It’s not dead yet.
Polio has proved harder to kill than its millions of victims around the world in the past century.
Canada’s first known case of polio – diagnosed posthumously – was in 1910. By the mid-1940s, there were epidemics nearly every summer. Kids infected each other on playgrounds, and those who remember those days, remember how empty the playgrounds became.
Canada’s worst summer was in 1953 – not because that was the summer I was born, but because polio peaked that year, with 9,000 cases of paralyzing polio resulting in 500 deaths.
Globally, polio infected about a half million people per year through the 1940s and 50s.
And then the miracles started happening. The polio vaccine was created and acknowledged by 1955. Within the next couple of years, Canada and other countries that pursued vigorous vaccination programs saw incidences of polio paralysis plummet by 80 to 90 per cent.
The last case of wild polio in Canada was in 1977. The last case in the United States was in 1979. The last case in the Western Hemisphere was in Peru in 1991.
In 1985, Rotary clubs around the world – including those in Langley – committed to a 30-year global program to eradicate polio by 2005, the 50th anniversary of the Salk vaccine, and also the 100th anniversary of Rotary International. It was deemed a natural extension of a massive and tremendously successful five-year program in which Rotarians immunized six million children in the Philippines.
The United Nations, a number of federal governments including Canada’s, and other non-governmental organizations got on board with Polio-Plus.
So far, the project’s final goal of total eradication is 13 years behind schedule.
Rotary clubs around the world have raised $1.7 billion for the effort, and millions upon millions of children have been vaccinated.
And while total success has eluded the effort – often because of wars and natural disasters – the results have been phenomenal.
From 500,000 cases per year just decades ago, there were 22 cases world-wide in 2017, and only 13 cases so far this year.
But the ignorance of anti-vaccination activists opens the door to potential resurgences of polio, as we’ve seen with other deadly diseases like measles.
Yesterday was World Polio Day, and Rotary clubs around the world renewed their pledge to fight until polio’s annual toll is brought to zero.