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Good News: We Are THIS Close

Chart In Focus
October 24, 2013

In honor of World Polio Day, Oct. 24, 2013, I thought I would take a detour away from my normal markets-oriented charts and share some really good news that may have escaped your attention.  The news is that through the work and support of millions of people around the world, we as a planet have almost defeated the disease known as polio.  And the story of how this all came about is a good one.

I have been a member of my local Rotary Club since 2007, and that is how I have become aware of this great story.  Rotary is an organization of business and professional persons united worldwide who provide humanitarian service, encourage high ethical standards in all vocations, and help build goodwill and peace in the world.  There are 1.2 million Rotarians in more than 34,000 clubs in 170 countries around the world. 

Back in the 1970s, a single Rotarian in the Phillippines approached his club, pointing out that a lot of children in their community were getting sick from polio, and that there was a vaccine available.  He convinced his club to raise money to help procure vaccinations for the area children, having a big positive effect in that small area.  By 1979, Rotary Clubs all around the Phillipines were combining together to help deliver vaccines to more than six millIon children. 

The success of this program caught the attention of Rotary International, which in 1985 launched PolioPlus, the first and largest internationally coordinated private-sector support of a public health initiative.  RI made an initial pledge of US$120 million. 

By 1988, Rotarians around the world had collectively raised $247 million, more than double the fundraising target.  The World Health Organization came on board, passing a resolution to eradicate polio, and setting up the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.  At that time, 125 countries were "polio endemic".

Poliomyelitis is a viral infection of the central nervous system.  It attacks the myelin, a protective sheath around nerves and the spinal cord.  It leads to partial or full paralysis, killing some victims and crippling the rest.  It is passed from person to person, usually through exposure to untreated water, and thus it is a pathogen ideally suited to the poor sanitation conditions of poorer countries. 

Children crippled by polio

Vaccines developed through the work of Hilary Koproski, Jonas Salk, and Albert Sabin in the 1950s helped to end a polio epidemic in developed countries, but the virus remained "in the wild" in countries where the vaccine could not be disseminated.  The science of beating polio had already been worked out, and what was needed was a push of money and manpower to get the rest of the world vaccinated.  That's where Rotary's efforts came in. 

National Immunization Day

It was not an easy task.  You can just imagine how it went when medical workers and volunteers came to some remote villages in Africa and Asia, and informed the village chieftain that some white people would like toThis Close put drops into the mouths of the village children.  Rumors spread around some countries in Africa that this was all an effort by their opponents in various civil wars to sterilize children.  So it took a big education campaign to win over people in remote areas and get the vaccines disseminated.  Even today, Al-Shabab militants in Somalia are spreading these rumors, trying to thwart vaccination efforts.

In Pakistan, certain Taliban leaders issued a fatwa banning polio vaccinations until the United States ceases drone strikes in the area.  But this opposition is not a uniformly held opinion.  Taliban leader Sami ul-Haq, known as the father of the Taliban, launched his own immunization drive near Peshawr, Pakistan in 2012, publicly giving the drops to his own grandson.

And even when volunteers and health workers are able to get vaccines distributed, that does not end the effort, because new children are being born every day, each and every one of them requiring their own vaccinations. 

Despite all of these difficulties, the number of countries where polio is endemic has continued to drop.  By 2011, it was down to just 4 countries, and in February 2012, India was certified to be polio-free.  It is now endemic in just 3 countries: Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria.  In 2012, there were fewer than 250 reported cases worldwide, compared to 350,000 cases in 1985 when Rotary began its worldwide push. 

A big help in this push has been the recognition by Bill and Melinda Gates and their foundation that this is a worthwhile effort.  They have come on board as major donors, matching Rotary's fundraising efforts with a 2 for 1 match. 

The push now is to finish eradicating polio worldwide, to wipe it out completely so that it does not flare up again and infect new generations.  Finishing the fight will not be easy or cheap, but it will be cheaper than having to refight it if polio flares up again, and cripples more people.  It only costs 60 cents to provide the vaccine to one child, which is a small amount compared to that child's loss of lifetime productivity if he becomes crippled by this disease.  And a child who does not get infected will also be a child who does not infect others. 

And this is where you can help.  Read more about the push at  Tell your friends about this.  You can even forward this email to them to help spread the word.  If this effort is something that you would like become a part of, you can follow the link to donate. 

Tom McClellan
Editor, The McClellan Market Report