THE Ilkley Wharfedale Rotary Club has a long term commitment to the End Polio Now campaign and has donated a further £1,100 to the cause.

Polio is a worldwide, water-borne, incurable, highly infectious, sometimes crippling and sometimes fatal disease which mainly affects young children. It was a common disease in the UK before routine vaccinations started in the late 50s, and many older people will remember children in calipers, and for those badly affected the “iron lungs” which kept them alive. The number of cases in the UK declined rapidly and the last case caught in Britain was in the 1980s, but outside the prosperous West it remained endemic with 350,000 notified cases a year in 125 countries. This was however the tip of an iceberg – because many people could catch polio without showing any serious symptoms and only a minority would be ill enough to have a diagnosis made.

In 1985 Rotary committed to raise funds to eradicate Polio globally, and three years later was joined in partnership by the World Health Organisation, the American Centre for Disease Control and UNICEF. The £1.5 billion donated by Rotary over the years has been fundamental component in the tremendous progress that has been made, and there are now only three countries in the world classified as having Endemic Polio.

In one of these countries – Nigeria – there has not been a case for 18 months, and if no cases are reported by the end of August this year Nigeria will also be declared Polio free – and this is in the face of the difficulties caused by the Boko Haram terrorist movement in the north of the country.

The other countries where Polio is still endemic are Pakistan and Afghanistan where there are many difficulties and as a result in 2018 there were 33 reported polio cases in these two countries – an increase of 11 over the previous year. As an indication of the difficulties faced in these areas - in 2018 in Afghanistan 18 polio workers were killed or injured, or captured and tortured by dissident elements in the South Eastern tribal areas who see them as agents of the West, and in Pakistan offers of vaccination were refused by 5 per cent of parents who are suspicious of the motives of the campaign. This means that the polio viruses are still circulating in the population, and in the river and water systems in both rural areas and further downstream in populous cities where the water supply infrastructure is in poor condition.

The end however is still within our grasp, and Rotary clubs are continuing to raise funds to help in the global effort. The funds are used to supply vaccines and fund immunisation teams throughout the world, and to fund water sampling programmes to detect where the virus is still circulating in the water supply.

Rotary fundraising has been boosted since 2007 by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – which contributes £2 for every £1 raised by Rotary – so the £1,100 raised by the Ilkley Wharfedale Rotary Club will be topped up to £3,300 – enough to vaccinate 5,000 children.

Fundraising efforts continue and donations can be made, with gift aid, via the website for the Ilkley Wharfedale Rotary Club.

by Chris Jones

Ilkley Wharfedale Rotary Club