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Rotarians review fight against polio

By Catherine Godbey 340-2441

Over a breakfast of coffee, eggs and biscuits conversations flowed from Halloween plans to weekend football games to the eradication of polio.

Polio, the disease that ravaged the United States, killing 3,145 and paralyzing 21,269 in 1952, still exists and affects people worldwide.

"This is what we don't want," said Dr. Robert Scott, pointing to a picture of two young boys in leg braces in India.

Scott, chairman of The Rotary Foundation of Rotary International, spoke to the Rotary Club of Decatur Daybreak on Wednesday.

He outlined past actions taken to eliminate polio and the present challenges facing the movement in sections of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.

A prominent supporter of eradicating polio, Rotary International has raised $650 million for the effort. The funds helped to develop separate vaccines for Types 1 and 3 of the poliovirus.

"We don't have a vaccine to treat Type 2 polio because we eradicated that in 1997," Scott noted.

Improved lab techniques further control the virus by cutting the time needed to process tests by 50 percent.

The Rotary Club listened as Scott outlined Rotary's role in the eradication movement.

"This is just marvelous. I didn't realize that this preventive work was happening," said Leighton resident Peggy Bowling.

Bowling knows polio first-hand, having contracted polio in 1938 at age 3.

"I grew up thinking I could do everything, and it's hard when you realize that some things aren't possible," Bowling said.

" 'You can do it,' that's what I was told my whole life ... but the disease couldn't let me swim," added Sue Johnson, who contracted polio in 1948.

"For me it was marching in the band. I just couldn't keep up," Bowling added.

Even with the number of endemic nations down from 125 to four, completely eradicating polio is still a challenge.

An outbreak of Type 3 polio in India, overlooked children in Nigeria, and reaching insecure areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan under Taliban control hamper eradication efforts.

Scott stressed the need for political and financial commitments from donor countries. Scott said countries are eager to verbally commit funds to the eradication effort but are unenthusiastic to actually honor those commitments. Rotary's role in amassing the funds involves pressuring governments to contribute to the campaign, said Scott.

"I know we can eradicate polio," Scott said.

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