It´s an ambitious undertaking of international proportions: Get rid of polio in every corner of the world by the year 2005.
Believe it or not, though polio has been eradicated in the United States, the disease is still crippling children and adults in nearly a dozen smaller counties.
In 1985, Rotary International launched its effort to stamp out the disease. Fewer than 10 counties still have polio and the number of cases worldwide has decreased 99 percent since 1985.
In order to take immunizations to those remaining counties, the Rotary is facing a $275-million short fall.
Local community and Rotary members have begun an ambitious fund-raising effort to help in the organization’s one-year campaign to help fill the funding gap and seek $80-million in cash and pledges. The $275-million shortfall is to be met in the next three years.
Rotary’s District Governor Dorothy Bizzini, of Atwater, was in Sonora Wednesday. She agrees. The amount of money needed is huge, but there´s a lot involved in getting the vaccine into those 10 remaining counties.
“We have to go in and do the immunizations, not just one time, but it usually takes four times,” Bizzini explains. “So it´s a constant repeat.” She says hundreds, and some times thousands, of people make the international trips, which adds to the cost.
Then there´s the follow-up. “We have labs set up and we constantly have to check and re-check the patients. If there is somebody we think may have the disease, the workers go in and isolate and make sure that it isn´t,” she explains. “So that’s the part that’s costly.”
The numbers of people who have to be given the vaccine during a short period of time is staggering, Bizzini says.
“During a National Immunization Day in Africa I had the privilege of being on, volunteers (gave the polio vaccine) to over a million people and we were there only three days.”
She says the Rotary volunteers are on the go constantly from early in the morning until they just can’t do anymore from pure exhaustion.
“You start out at four or five o’clock in the morning and you go until you’re exhausted,” She recalls. “It´s very hot there and usually by afternoon, you’re physically exhausted and can’t walk anymore. But that’s what it´s like. One on one, that’s what it is.”
Of the money raised for the fight against polio, up to $25 million of contributions to the campaign will be matched by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
On the local level, Mother Lode Rotary clubs are holding a fund-raising kick-off event Saturday, Nov. 16 at the Sonora Hills Club House on Greenley Road in Sonora. The evening begins at 5:30 p.m. and is open to the public.
The purpose of the gathering is to raise awareness of the need, and to help clubs, community organizations and businesses prepare for fund raising activities of their own.
Special presenter, Dr. Joseph Serra, will share his experiences and photos of the polio patients he has treated over the years of the program.
For information on the polio program, contact Samuel Wheeler at (209) 532-1218 or Kent Johnson at (209) 533-7100.