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Work remains to end polio once and for all

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Global health officials are on the verge of eradicating polio, but major challenges remain, including getting vaccines to areas in the few countries where it remains endemic, and the resistance of some parents to have children vaccinated.
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Oct. 24 is World Polio Day, a day to celebrate what's been accomplished in eliminating this crippling disease in the United States and the western hemisphere and to consider what work we need to do in the few countries where the disease still persists.

Since 1985, when Rotary International and its partners began work to eradicate polio, the number of polio cases globally has gone from about 350,000 to just 37 in 2016.

More than one million Rotary members have donated their time and personal resources to end polio. Rotary members work with UNICEF and other partners to prepare and distribute mass communication tools to reach people in areas isolated by conflict, geography, or poverty.

To maintain this control of polio and pursue its actual eradication, Rotary has committed $50 million a year and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will match that two to one with another $100 million a year.

The only other infectious disease we have ever eradicated is smallpox. Now we no longer need to vaccinate against smallpox. In the U.S., we discontinued routine recommendations for that vaccine in 1972.

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For more than 300 years, vaccinations against smallpox, polio and now many others have saved lives and prevented illnesses and disabilities for millions of people worldwide. The success of vaccination programs is undeniable. Vaccines are among the most effective, efficient and safe tools for promoting individual and public health.

In the US, there has been a 99 percent decrease in the occurrence of diseases for which a vaccine is recommended. Because of this success, fewer and fewer people remember the deadly diseases of the past, like smallpox, polio, diphtheria, tetanus, Haemophilus influenzae, varicella, measles, mumps, and rotavirus. Yet, these infections are commonplace in many other countries. In fact, measles outbreaks in this country can almost always be tracked back to international travel where the disease still persists—as it does in Europe, Asia, and Africa.

Most vaccine-preventable diseases are just a plane-ride away. The exception is tetanus, which is already in your backyard.

Thus, all the vaccine-preventable diseases are still a threat to ourselves, our children, our neighbors, and our loved ones, resulting in infections, cancers, hospitalizations, permanent disability, and deaths. Vaccines not only protect the individual receiving them, but can also reduce disease among those who cannot be vaccinated through preventing the spread of infection.

Our community has identified vaccine preventable diseases as one of the top five health priorities for Olmsted County. Addressing vaccine-preventable disease is a key part of our county's Community Health Improvement Plan. Partners from our local public health department, our health care providers, our businesses, and our schools are working together to improve our community's vaccination rates.

On World Polio Day, the Rotary Clubs of Rochester will host a free public event at Cambria Gallery, 400 South Broadway, Suite 105, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., where you can learn more about vaccine-preventable diseases.

We celebrate what Rotary and its partners have done to fight polio and join the organization in that fight as a community committed to reducing vaccine-preventable diseases like polio through our own efforts.

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iStock-480585529-620x342.jpg
Global health officials are on the verge of eradicating polio, but major challenges remain, including getting vaccines to areas in the few countries where it remains endemic, and the resistance of some parents to have children vaccinated.

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