A Message of Hope on World Polio Day: End Polio Now

by Tabatha Zang, VA senior

Today, October 24th, 2018, is World Polio Day. Now some of you may even ask, “What is Polio?” Many of us don’t know, because -- well, it’s not as prevalent as it was a few generations ago; at its height, there were almost 60,000 reported cases of polio with the most famous victim: President Franklin D. Roosevelt. This history of this virus is devastating.  Once the vaccine was introduced in 1955, that number drastically dropped to 13,850. Thanks to organizations like Rotary International, today, there are fewer than 100 cases worldwide, and the goal of End Polio Now is to completely eradicate all cases of polio over every inch of the world.

Also known as the poliovirus, Polio is a highly infectious disease that most commonly affects children under the age of 5. The virus is spread from person to person, typically by contaminated water. Polio attacks the nervous system, and in some cases, it could lead to paralysis or death. Although there is no known cure for Polio, there is a safe and effective vaccine - one which the Rotary and their partners used to immunize over 2.5 billion children worldwide (PolioNow.org).

Over this past weekend, the SkillsUSA Opening and Closing Team went to Camp Kon-O-Kwee to hear about the Rotary’s campaign, End Polio Now. presented by a polio survivor, Tom Grant and his wife, Marie.

Tom tells us his story:

“For a very long time I didn’t talk about my polio because I was in denial. I wanted to be viewed as “normal”. With my wife’s support I began to speak out and discuss my disability. I learned that everyone has a disability. Some (like mine)  are obvious, while others are not known until the person would act out or speak out... prejudice, bullying, insecurity. With my wife’s support, I began to accept my condition and use it as a means of helping others to understand polio and support efforts to eliminate it from the world.”  

The most amazing thing about his story is he never let his disability, his disease, stop him from helping others. Even though he is judged as “lesser” by some, he never lets that stop him. Tom is making sure no one else will ever have to suffer from polio by helping people understand what polio is, informing us that it isn’t completely gone -- yet, and that it is still important to work to eliminate.

Greatly impacted by the message, Riley Leonard states, “Polio isn't really something we learn about, and it's not really something we see all the time nowadays or hear about.”  

Learning that is struck Tom when he was seventeen made the story even more poignant to Riley, “I can’t imagine what it has been like for Tom to go from practicing for the big football game one day to being hospitalized and immobile the next.  It makes it REAL to hear his story first-hand about what it was like, and it encourages me to khow close we are to actually totally ridding the world of this terrible virus.”

There are only three countries that remain endemic; according to PolioErradication.org, there are only 18 reported cases this year. For a country to be declared “polio-free”, they have to have ZERO polio cases for three years. If a case pops up within those three years, the time period to declare for full eradication has to start all over again.

The End Polio Now organization has reduced cases of Polio by 99.9% since 1998, but for them, the Rotary, and Tom and Marie Grant, it is not good enough. Until then, every unvaccinated child is still at risk. This dynamic duo will not stop until they have reached a worldwide statistic of 100% Polio Free.  

If you would like to learn more about Polio Global Eradication Initiative supported by Rotary International, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and many others, click HERE.