Rotarians in New Westminster are thrilled that their efforts are helping to eradicate polio in countries around the world.
The City of New Westminster has proclaimed Oct. 24 as World Polio Day. The proclamation states Rotary International launched PolioPlus in 1985 and spearheaded the global polio eradication initiative with the World Health Organization, the US Centers for Disease Control, UNICEF and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has led to the immunization of almost three billion children in 122 countries.
Locally, the Rotary Club of New Westminster and the Royal City Rotary Club, as well as Rotaract and Interact clubs, have supported efforts to create a polio-free world and to help end this incurable disease. Rotary states the virus is spread person to person, typically through contaminated water, and attacks the nervous system, sometimes leading to paralysis.
Roy Prevost, a member of the Rotary Club of New Westminster, accepted the city’s proclamation on behalf of local Rotarians at the Oct. 18 council meeting. He noted that there were 350,000 cases of polio in 125 countries annually when Rotary launched its global polio eradication initiative in 1988.
“Many children died, and those that survived a lifetime of paralysis,” he said. “In developing countries, where even the able-bodied struggle to meet challenges, the polio victims lost all opportunities to have an education, to get a job, to have a family. Things we take for granted.”
In the years since the initiative began, Prevost said “great progress” has been made against the disease.
“To date, polio cases have been reduced by over 99.9%, and just two countries continue to report cases of wild polio virus – Afghanistan and Pakistan,” he told council. “In fact, it’s down to six cases now. Once we get that handled, it is eradicated.”
The fight continues
But that doesn’t mean Rotary is giving up the battle against polio anytime soon.
“With polio nearly eradicated, Rotary and its partners must sustain this progress and continue to reach every child with the polio vaccine,” Prevost said. “Without full funding and political commitment, this paralyzing disease could return to polio-free countries, putting children everywhere at risk.”
According to Prevost, Rotary has committed to raising $50 million US per year to support polio eradication efforts and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has pledged to match that two to one, for a total yearly contribution of $150 million.
In New West, the city’s two local Rotary clubs, the local Rotaract club and the Interact club will continue to raise funds and promote awareness about their projects.
Gabor Gasztonyi, a local Rotarian and photographer, is a passionate advocate for efforts to end polio. In addition to speaking to different Rotary Clubs about polio and his experience with it, he also travels to Ethiopia as part of a project that provides physiotherapy services to young children who have the disease.
“I had polio when I was three years old,” he told the Record in 2018. “Most of polio was eradicated but I managed to get it. We had just come from Hungary as refugees, and I think there was a group of us who were not immunized.”
In recognition of World Polio Day, Gasztonyi spoke at the Rotary Club of New Westminster’s Oct. 20 meeting via Zoom. He firmly believes efforts must continue to provide immunizations against polio, or the devastating disease will return.
According to Prevost, it’s estimated that more than 18 million children have been saved from death or a life of paralysis because of efforts to combat polio.
“What an amazing thing,” said Coun. Jaimie McEvoy. “Service organizations are often known for what they do locally, but for an international service organization to set out to say, ‘Our goal is to eradicate a disease from the face of the Earth and get rid of it’… It’s a pretty amazing thing.”
For more information about Rotary’s fight to eradicate polio, go to www.endpolio.org.