Rotary Clubs in Falkirk battle to eradicate polio

Eradicating polio has been main mission for Rotary Clubs for more than 30 years and, with only 10 cases last year, it's now well within touching distance.
Eradicating polio has been main mission for Rotary Clubs for more than 30 years and, with only 10 cases last year, it's now well within touching distance.
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For more than 30 years Rotarians world-wide have been waging war on polio.

And they are now moving ever closer to eradicating the disease entirely.

Even if the last case of polio is witnessed this year, it takes three years for a country to be declared polio-free so the campaign still has a way to go.

Even if the last case of polio is witnessed this year, it takes three years for a country to be declared polio-free so the campaign still has a way to go.

Since the organisation and its partners launched the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in 1988, the incidence of polio has plummeted by more than 99.9 percent.

Cases have dropped from 350,000 a year in 125 countries to just 37 cases in 2016 in three remaining polio-endemic countries – Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.

Last year, only 10 cases were reported and the optimism of eradicating the virus is such that Bill Gates, whose charitable foundation is backing the campaign, even forecast recently that the world would this year see its last case of polio.

Rotary clubs locally are playing their part in the final push to ward off polio.

Falkirk Rotary Club has raised around £1000 each year for the End Polio Now Campaign, with more than £1500 raised last year alone.

One of its biggest fundraisers was a cabaret dinner in the Stables at Callendar House in the early 1990s – in association with other clubs in the district – which raised £10,000.

Members will again be raising funds and awareness in 2018. Among other activities, the club will be selling artificial purple crocuses for people to wear to show their support.

These are available now, priced just £1, from the Park Hotel in Falkirk, Thomas Johnston Butchers in Cow Wynd, Falkirk, and Klondyke Garden Centre in Polmont.

Sandy McGill, Falkirk Rotary Club’s programme co-ordinator, is delighted the campaign is finally getting the publicity it richly deserves.

He said: “We’ve told the story to any number of people but the world’s press hasn’t been interested.

“There used to be 350,000 polio cases every year – now we’re down to ten cases.

“Had the campaign not been such a success, around ten million children could have died or been horrendously crippled.

“You can’t event think of that kind of number.

“It’s amazing to be part of the campaign and to finally see an end in sight. But we can’t stop now.

“A country can’t be declared polio-free for three years after the final case.

“And our work won’t stop until our promise to eradicate polio globally becomes a reality.”

Falkirk club members planted 10,000 crocus corms 18 months ago near Falkirk’s floral clock and on the slopes behind Newmarket Street bus stands.

Sadly, the floral clock bulbs failed to take but that didn’t put members off.

Sandy added: “Cineworld screened Breeze in November, a story about a man who contracted polio, and the manager allowed us to collect outside, enabling us to raise another £110.

“The artificial crocuses have brought in £220 so far and we’ve also raised £40 from painting pinkies purple at the club and at our annual conference in Newcastle.

“Most of the fundraising we’ve done, though, has been by can collections in Falkirk.

“We couldn’t do what we do without the generosity of people in Falkirk, to whom we’re eternally grateful.”

Members of Larbert Rotary Club have also supported the campaign, with a little help from the Purple4Polio campaign.

This refers to the dye colour placed on the little finger of a child’s left hand to show they have been immunised against polio.

Larbert Rotary Club President Alan Boyne explained: “Purple Pinkie is how we deliver the message to primary school children.

“In 2017, we worked with Airth, Kinnaird, Stenhousemuir and Ladeside Primary Schools.

“The teachers organised a Purple Pinkie Day to educate the children about polio.

“Each pupil paid 50p to have their pinkie painted with purple nail varnish, which raised £953.92.

“It’s a great way to raise awareness too as the children are always so enthusiastic.

“Not only are we raising money for inoculations but we’re also educating youngsters at the same time so we love doing it.”

All clubs in the Falkirk district make regular financial donations to the Rotary Foundation; part of these contributions are given to the polio campaign.

Rotary globally has committed to raising £40 million per year over the next three years for the campaign.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which became involved in 2003, will match Rotary’s commitment by 2:1, so every £1 donated by the public becomes £3.

Polio: a life-changing illness

Although it used to be common in the UK, cases of the disease reduced drastically after routine vaccination against it was introduced in the 1950s and there have been no cases caught in the UK since the 1990s.

The infection is still found in some parts of the world, however, and there is still a small risk that it could be brought back to the UK.

Most people with polio do not show symptoms and will not know that they are infected, but for up to one in 100 it can have devastating consequences and lead to temporary or even permanent paralysis, which can be life-threatening.

There is currently no cure for polio which is why Rotary worldwide has taken up the cause to vaccinate as many people as possible.

It can be transmitted by coming into contact with the faeces of an infected person or by airborne transmission when they cough and sneeze.

Polio often passes quickly without causing any other problems, however, it can sometimes lead to persistent or lifelong difficulties and around one in every 200 people with the infection will have some degree of permanent paralysis.

Others may be left with problems that require long-term treatment and support including muscle weakness, shrinking of the muscles, tight joints and deformities such as twisted feet or legs.

Someone who has already had polio can also develop similar symptoms again, or worsening of their existing symptoms, many years later.

Other areas declared polio-free include Europe, the Americas, the western Pacific region and southeast Asia.

But polio is still a significant problem in Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan, with a risk of infection in other parts of Africa and some Middle Eastern countries.