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World Polio Day

World Polio Day


World Polio Day is marked on 24 October each year. Polio (also known as poliomyelitis) is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system resulting in the majority of cases with severe paralysis to the limbs. To date in 2017 only 11 cases of the wild polio virus have been reported worldwide, 5 in Pakistan and 6 in Afghanistan. In addition to the cases of the wild polio virus, there have been 56 cases of circulating vaccine derived polio cases in Syria 47 and the Democratic Republic of the Congo 9.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) partnership was established in 1985. Today the GPEI is a public-private partnership led by five partners – the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In September 2017, Rotary International for its part approved further grants totalling US$49.5 million to support polio eradication efforts in Africa and the Middle East.

In the same month the New Zealand Government announced that it would provide a grant to Rotary for NZ $5 million for the GPEI. Immunisation in New Zealand began in 1957. Although New Zealand is polio free, with no cases of wild polio infection since 1970, the late effects of polio continue to affect thousands. Post-polio syndrome as it is referred to currently affects approximately 9,000 people living in New Zealand ranging in age from 30 to 100 years.

Those younger people living in New Zealand who suffer from Post-polio syndrome caught the wild polio virus prior to emigrating into the country. While an attack of polio only lasts a short time, recovery can take about two to eighteen months. Movement in affected limbs gradually returns, unless permanently affected.

Polio survivors have shown a great capacity to recover and cope with the long term effects. For years after recovery, a normal life can be lived, with perhaps some adjustment for residual paralysis or weak limbs. Paralytic polio damages the body’s nervous system, which may result in too few healthy nerves working the body’s muscles. The body has a great capacity to adapt, to cope in the short term, but over time the overworked nerves begin to weaken.

It is this that is believed to cause post-polio syndrome. The risk of polio re-occurring in New Zealand increases while immunisation remains below optimal levels. The only prevention is vaccination. Rotarians in New Zealand are reminded each World Polio Day that whilst the day of a Polio free world draws closer, they will need to continue to raise substantial additional funding for some years yet. “24 October will become a celebration only when Polio is eliminated from the world.” GPEI Rotary spokesperson in New Zealand, Stuart Batty said. More information and support about Post-polio syndrome are available from http://www.polio.org.nz/

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