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City Icons Lit Purple For World Polio Day Oct 24

To mark World Polio Day on October 24, 14 city icons around New Zealand from Whangarei to Dunedin will be lit purple to remember the more than 800 New Zealanders who died from the Poliomyelitis virus during the pandemics of the 1950s.

Christchurch Art Gallery

Four boutique gin distillers around the country are also creating a purple coloured gin to commemorate Poliomyelitis epidemics which broke out in New Zealand in 1916, 1925, 1927, 1937, 1948–49, 1952–53 and 1955–56.

Until the arrival of effective vaccines in the late 1950s, Polio was a devastating virus as it particularly affected children, says Polio NZ Board member, Sue Griffin.

“During the global polio pandemics New Zealand alone recorded around 10,000 cases, and more than 800 deaths,” says Griffin. “Survivors often suffered from lifelong partial or complete paralysis of limbs or the entire body. In the worst cases, the lives of seriously paralysed patients could only be saved by long periods in a compression chamber or ‘iron lung’.”

In very similar circumstances to the current Covid-19 pandemic, a mass immunisation campaign starting in the late 1950s achieved a high population coverage and eliminated the polio virus from New Zealand.

“If Covid-19 has taught us anything, it is that we cannot forget how vulnerable we are as humans to viruses,” says Griffin who is a polio survivor herself. “Just like Covid, the Polio epidemics had a dramatic effect on the life of New Zealanders. Schools and public places were closed and those who caught it had to be isolated until they recovered.”

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The colour purple has become associated with World Polio Day following the World Health Organisation practice in third world countries to dip of the little finger of vaccinated children in gentian violet as a system to ensure children were not missed or given a double dose.

Landmarks being lit purple are the Canopy Bridge in Whangarei, the Anzac Bridge in Hamilton, the clock towers in Gisborne, Hastings, Palmerston North and New Plymouth, the Wharf Street in Tauranga, the Event Centre in Carterton, the Tree in Masterton, the Fantail Square in Upper Hutt, the Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington, the Trafalgar Area on Nelson, the Art Gallery in Christchurch, and the Toitu Museum in Dunedin.

These icons will join others around the globe in being lit purple that have included The Coliseum in Rome, The Houses of Parliament in London, the Sydney Opera House, Table Mountain in Durban, Culzean Castle in Scotland, and The Empire State building in New York.

To further commemorate and remind us of the effects of the polio epidemics, Dunedin Craft Distilleries has created a special batch of purple gin available at its cellar door, and the Otago Farmers Market.

The South Island’s Scapegrace Gin And Hamilton’s Good George are supporting World Polio Day with their magical colour-changing gin, which turns purple when a mixer is added.

Although Polio has been eradicated in New Zealand due to the current Ministry of Health vaccination programme, survivors today are still struggling with the long-term effects known as Post-Polio Syndrome, explains Griffin.

“The late effects of Polio are common - affecting perhaps as many as 50% of individuals who contracted Polio. They include associated pain in muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints. Depression is also common as everyday activities become harder to perform because of the depletion of the motor neuron pool leading to fatigue,” says Griffin.

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