On October 24, World Polio Day, Joe Tournear addressed the meeting of the Rotary Club of Heber Springs. Rotary International’s vision to eradicate polio began in 1988, when there were more than 350,000 cases of polio worldwide. Mr. Tournear’s presentation outlined the journey to understand and eradicate the disease, ending with the accomplishments toward wiping it out since Rotary International began its campaign. Poliomyelitis is found only in humans, and it is contagious, spreading by water contaminated by feces, and by droplets of saliva. It can only live for a short time outside a human host, and it normally impacts children.  Identified as a paralytic condition as far back as ancient Egypt, the virus causing polio was not discovered until 1908.

“In 1916, a polio outbreak in New York City killed 2000 children,” Tournear said, noting that while most young people today think that polio is a non-issue, it once kept entire cities in the United States living in fear. In the 1940’s there were several large outbreaking, disabling an average of 35,000 children per year. The modern Intensive Care Units found in hospitals were originally invented in the 1950s to help care for the many children affected. In 1952, there were 58,000 cases of polio nationwide.

But in the same decade, things began to change. In 1955, the March of Dimes began funding research. Dr. Jonas Salk discovered the first vaccine for the disease. In 1960, an oral vaccine, able to be produced for pennies was created by Dr. Albert Sabin. Because of the inexpensive cost, this vaccine has made a huge impact worldwide. By 1977, most of the United States was free of the disease, though there were still more than a quarter million cases across the globe.

In 1977, Rotary International launched its first polio campaign, vaccinating six million children in the Philippines. By 1985, the organization decided to attempt to stamp the disease out completely. The Polio Plus campaign was born. The World Health Organization, UNESCO and the Centers for Disease Control joined Rotarians in their efforts across the world. By the year 2000, vaccines had been given to 550 million children worldwide, and in 2003 there were only 6 countries with live poliovirus infections. Today, the live virus can be found only in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and there are currently only eleven live virus cases found in the entire world.

This amazing feat was accomplished by people who were “bold, determined and willing to work together,” Tournear said. “With that kind of effort, we can accomplish anything.” He added that October 24 is designated each year as World Polio Day because it is the birth anniversary of the vaccine’s discoverer, Dr. Jonas Salk. Rotary International continues to fund polio eradication efforts through the Polio Plus campaign, hoping one day to have completely eradicated the disease from the face of the earth.

Rotarians are “People of Action” who are making a difference locally, nationally and internationally.  The Object of Rotary is "to encourage and foster the ideal of service as a basis of worthy enterprise." The Rotary Club of Heber Springs meets each Tuesday at noon on the ASU-Heber Springs Campus. For more information about the Rotary Club of Heber Springs, please visit our Facebook page at facebook.com/TheRotaryClubofHeberSpringsAR.