Rotarian Santiago R. Hernandez drew parallels between the dangers of the Ebola virus and polio at an October 24 World Polio Day meeting of the Rotary Club of Ajijic.
“I believe that, although polio may not cause the same dramatic signs and symptoms in the same rapid manner as a hemorrhagic virus such as Ebola, it is equally if not more important that we address its eradication in a very pro-active manner.”
Hernandez, the medical director and owner of the Chapala Med Clinic, reminded his fellow Rotarians that more than 3,000 of the 58,000 patients in the 1952 United States polio epidemic died, and that more than 21,000 were left with mild to disabling paralysis.
Polio virus is transmitted by fecal-hand-oral contamination, Hernandez said. There is no treatment or cure, although vaccination has a profound effect.
The last case of naturally occurring poliomyelitis in the United States was reported in 1979 and the last case in the Western Hemisphere was in Peru in 1991.
Hernandez said the world is close to eradication – one of Rotary International’s foremost goals.
The results of the immunization and surveillance of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative of 1988 have been dramatic. In 1988, polio was endemic in more than 125 countries, and paralyzed at least 350,000 children per year. By 2012, only three countries in which endemic wild poliovirus transmission had never been interrupted: Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan.
Despite this progress, new outbreaks of polio continue. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared in May 2014 that the spread of polio was a global public health emergency, posing a major threat to the global eradication effort. The outbreaks highlight the risk for the reintroduction of cases due to international travel, health systems with limited resources, areas of low oral vaccination coverage, and delays in recognizing and testing cases of acute flaccid paralysis. These risks are exacerbated in areas of military, political, and social conflict, such as Syria and Pakistan.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative partnership was launched in 1998 and is led by WHO, the U.S.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United Nations Children’s Fund, Rotary International, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Numerous governmental and non-governmental donors and the ministries of health of all affected nations carry out the program’s initiatives at a cost that exceeds one billion dollars per year.