Bob McLean of Nisswa knows getting people to care about World Polio Day during the coronavirus pandemic is a hard sell, but he and his fellow Rotarians aren’t going to stop trying.
World Polio Day is Oct. 24. The annual observance raises awareness about the disease and funds to end it and bring about “a world where no child lives in fear of paralysis from poliovirus.”
“The motto of Rotary, I think, best describes what we do. It’s basically doing good in the world through ‘service above self,’ so we’ve been very involved with many large projects, polio being the most significant,” McLean said.
McLean is retired from Happy Dancing Turtle, a nonprofit in Pine River. He is the district governor for Rotary District 5580, which includes the Rotary Club of Brainerd and the Central Lakes Rotary Club of Pequot Lakes.
“Rotary was the one that really started the whole initiative back in 1985 with the immunization effort. And back then, I think it was something in the neighborhood of like 250,000 people who had polio,” McLean said.
Poliomyelitis is a highly infectious disease that most commonly affects children under the age of 5, according to Rotary International. The poliovirus is spread from person to person through contaminated water, attacking the nervous system, and in some instances, leads to paralysis.
“In August, the entire continent of Africa was declared free of the wild poliovirus, leaving us with just two countries remaining in the entire world: Afghanistan and Pakistan. Even with a COVID Pandemic, progress continues to be made to achieve a world free of the wild poliovirus,” McLean stated in a letter to club leaders.
World Polio Day is a time for Rotarians from all over the world to come together, recognize their progress in their fight to end polio, and talk about the action they need to take to end polio for good, according to McLean. The theme for World Polio Day 2020 is “A win against polio is a win for global health.”
“The World Health Organization — once they saw what Rotary was able to accomplish in the Philippines — became a partner in the process. And then the Gates Foundation, very generous — exceptionally generous — in their contributions,” McLean said.
Rotary has contributed more than $2.1 billion to global polio eradication efforts. Since 1988, nearly 3 billion children have been immunized against polio, and nearly 19 million people are walking who would otherwise have been paralyzed, according to Rotary officials.
“All the clubs in our district are encouraged to help raise funds to help continue the vaccination process, so we’re encouraging all clubs in the district to — especially with World Polio Day — to put on some fun type event within their community that would help raise awareness,” he said.
The Central Lakes Rotary Club’s fundraiser “Pints for Polio” last year at Big Axe Brewing Co. in Nisswa included a portion of the proceeds from the sale of pints donated to the efforts to eradicate polio.
“There’s a number of clubs who have ordered COVID masks that have the Rotary and ‘End polio’ symbols on them, and those are going to be sold on Oct. 24 as a fundraiser,” McLean said.
The certification of Africa as wild poliovirus-free is a significant milestone that would not have been possible without the dedication and support of countless Rotary members, according to officials.
“It has taken many, many years to get to this point. But we’re now down to the last two countries in the world that have any polio cases left. And we’re hoping within the next three years or so, those two countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan, will also be free of the wild poliovirus,” he said.
McLean said the polio infrastructure Rotary helped build has been used over the last several months to respond to COVID-19 in many vulnerable countries. Rotary International includes 35,000 clubs around the world with 1.2 million members in 220 countries.
Some people who contracted polio end up with the inability to breathe on their own and often need the assistance of a medical device.
“They’re the lucky ones. They’re the ones who survived polio when they were young in contrast to those that were stricken and it became deadly for people because of the impact it has on their ability to breathe,” he said.
Within 10 years, as many as 200,000 new cases of polio could occur worldwide annually, according to Rotary International.
“For those that were living in countries where it continued to be, you know, pervasive, it was something that they were all just frightened to death about,” McLean said. “If you don’t eliminate polio from the face of the earth, it has every opportunity to crawl its way back up.”
For more information about Rotary International’s “End Polio Now” efforts, visit endpolio.org. And visit Rotary International’s Facebook page or endpolio.org at 8 a.m. on World Polio Day on Oct. 24 for an international broadcast about eradicating polio.