Pushing polio to extinction | VailDaily.com

Pushing polio to extinction

VAIL — When the Vail Rotary Club meets Wednesday morning in Manor Vail Lodge, they'll donate 30 polio vaccines in honor of their speaker.

In fact, they do the same thing every week.

"That's 1,200 polio vaccines every year, just from our club," said Larry Agneberg with the Vail Rotary Club.

That's 1,200 people who get to live who might not otherwise.

The Vail Rotary Club, along with local Rotary clubs in Edwards and Eagle are part of Rotary International's PolioPlus, part of the successful Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

Since Rotary introduced its PolioPlus campaign, the number of polio cases worldwide has dropped 99 percent. The virus remains endemic in just three countries: Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan.

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Rotary International has been in the forefront of the polio fight since 1985. Since then the number of polio cases has dropped from 350,000 annually to fewer than 400 in 2014.

Rotary has contributed more than $1.3 billion and countless volunteer hours to vaccinate more than 2 billion children worldwide

The Vail Rotary Club has been around since the early 1970s, and got on board with the fight against polio in 1985 when Rotary International jumped in.

"Rotary International was looking for a cause in the 1980s, and every Rotary Club in the world started raising money to stamp out polio," Agneberg said.

It hasn't always been easy. There have been a few instances of polio workers killed for trying to administer the vaccine.

The only two other polio-endemic countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan, continue to experience hurdles in polio eradication campaigns including inaccessibility to children and security. Last year, Pakistan saw an outbreak which resulted in more than 300 cases, the highest number in the country in more than a decade. As a result, Pakistan accounted for almost 90 percent of the world's cases. However, there has been improvement in 2015. Cases are down nearly 70 percent over this same time in 2014.

By the way, local Rotarians can do this sort of thing because, among other things, they raise a bunch of money with their annual Rotary Rubber Duck Race during Labor Day weekend. So when a Rotarian asks you to adopt a duck, adopt several.

$40.3 million for good

As the fight continues, Rotarians around the world just gave a $40.3 million grant to support immunization and research.

The funding commitment comes at a critical time as Nigeria, said Mike McGovern, chair of Rotary's International PolioPlus committee. Nigeria is the last polio-endemic country in Africa – approaching one-year since its last case of polio.

In fact, no new cases of polio have been reported anywhere in Africa since August 2014.

The only two other polio-endemic countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan, continue to experience hurdles in polio eradication campaigns including inaccessibility to children and security. Last year, Pakistan saw an outbreak which resulted in more than 300 cases, the highest number in the country in more than a decade. As a result, Pakistan accounted for almost 90 percent of the world's cases. However, there has been improvement in 2015. Cases are down nearly 70 percent over this same time in 2014.

"We are closer than we've ever been to wiping out polio," McGovern said. "Although there has been noteworthy progress made against the disease, children remain at risk. Rotary – along with our partners – must continue to stay the course and remain steadfast in our plight to eradicate polio. These funds will help boost our efforts to combat polio worldwide."

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.