‘World Polio Day’ was a good draw locally

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Dr. Martha Lepow, an early pioneer in polio immunization, was one of the speakers. She is featured in the “History of Polio” video recently created by a joint effort of SRC, District 7190, CASDA, and the UAlbany School of Public Health.

A crowd of about 60 people attended the 5th annual “World Polio Day” event held by District 7190 at the UAlbany Health Sciences Campus on Tuesday evening.

The event included a live streaming of Rotary International’s information and a presentation by Bill Gates, whose Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has for years partnered with Rotary to support ongoing polio immunization globally.

“What we’re looking at now is sort of the endgame of polio eradication,” says Dr. Jay Wenger, who leads the Gates Foundation’s polio eradication efforts. “We are closer than ever, and we’re optimistic that we can see the end of wild poliovirus disease by as early as this year.”

According to Dr. Wenger, there are only 12 known cases of the wild poliovirus in existence today, in just two countries: Afghanistan and Pakistan. “In the last couple of years, we’ve seen unprecedented progress. In 2015 we could only find 74 cases; in 2016 we found 37, and then this year so far we’ve found only 12 in only two countries.”

That is a result of a mass immunization effort to orally vaccinate 2.5 billion children in 122 countries, bolstered by the 1988 launch of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. However, unless immunizations continue, cases of polio can quickly pop up and just as quickly begin spreading.

Tuesday’s local event included flu vaccinations for anyone interested, and several dozen people took advantage. SRC provided refreshments and, as club president Roberto Martinez reported, “We had one bag of chips left over and about five cookies.”

Here are several other images from the evening. (You can find the photos in album format on our club’s Facebook page.)

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Debbie Rodriguez and Pat Bailey staffed our club’s table.
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Jim Leyhane, who interviewed Martha Lepow in the video, shared some thoughts.
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Roberto Martinez poses with Peter and Debbie Brown.
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Attendees discuss the “End Polio Now” materials.
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District Governor Fred Daniels addresses attendees.
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Visitors pick up information about Rotary and its many service efforts.

Please help spread the word

This is the official flyer for the upcoming “World Polio Day” we will he hosting on October 24. Please feel free to help distribute it in any way you can — printed out and posted on a business, school or other bulletin board; via any social media accounts, etc. Thank you.

(If you would like to download a PDF version of the flyer, simply click here.)

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5 things you might not know about ending polio

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Rotarians distribute polio vaccine by any means necessary. (photo: Rotary International)

The road to eradicating polio has been a long and difficult one, with Rotary leading the fight since 1985. Going from nearly 350,000 cases in 1988 to just 10 so far this year has required time, money, dedication, and innovation from thousands of people who are working to end the disease.

Here are five things you may not know about the fight to end polio:

1. Ice cream factories in Syria are helping by freezing the ice packs that health workers use to keep the polio vaccine cold during immunization campaigns.

2. Celebrities have become ambassadors in our fight to end the disease. They include WWE wrestling superstar John Cena, actress Kristen Bell, action-movie star Jackie Chan, golf legend Jack Nicklaus, Grammy Award-winning singers Angelique Kidjo and Ziggy Marley, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu, anthropologist Dr. Jane Goodall, co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Bill Gates, and world-renowned violinist and polio survivor Itzhak Perlman.

3. Health workers and Rotary volunteers have climbed mountains, crossed deserts, and sailed to remote islands, risking their lives to vaccinate children against this disease. Rotary has funded more than 1,500 motorbikes and 6,700 other vehicles, as well as 17 boats, to make those journeys. Vaccinators have even traveled on the backs of elephants, donkeys, and camels to immunize children in remote areas.

4. In Pakistan, the polio program emphasizes hiring local female vaccinators and monitors. More than 21,000 vaccinators, 83% of whom are women, are achieving the highest immunization coverage rates in the country’s history.

5. Thanks to the efforts of Rotary and its partners, more than 16 million people who otherwise might have been paralyzed are walking today. In all, more than 2.5 billion children have been vaccinated since 1988.


Syria turmoil stirs fears of polio uptick

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This Syrian vaccine effort is being endangered in the violence-torn nation.

The next time you hear or read a plea for financial support of Rotary’s anti-polio efforts, please don’t consider it just more of the same old fundraising rhetoric.

As recently as last year, public health authorities determined the dreaded disease that once ravaged every nation had been confined to just three countries — Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan — because of a vigorous decades-long immunization spearheaded  by Rotary International.

Since then, violence and terrorism have halted immunization efforts and polio has grown worse in those three countries as well as other parts of Africa terrorized by the Boko Harum terrorists,

And now, the ongoing turmoil in Syria has affected polio immunization efforts there, with dosage levels dropping from 80% of the population to only 40%. That, in turn, has led to an outbreak of more than 20 polio cases already this year in a nation that had been polio free since 2011.

Why? An interruption of the polio vaccine supply line, the growing number of refugees who tend to spread disease because they have compromised access to health care and are aimlessly migratory, and the inability to maintain programs because of widespread violence and assaults on volunteer and professional medical workers.

As we know, although polio is incurable it is preventable, but that requires a non-stop program of vaccination even in areas believed to be “polio free.” And, that requires financial support.

Food for thought.


Bill Gates: 16M reasons to be optimistic about polio

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Entrepreneur Bill Gates helps give infant the anti-polio vaccine.

• From GatesNotes: The Blog of Bill Gates

People often ask me how I know the world is getting better. I usually point to numbers like this one: Because of efforts to eradicate polio by groups like Rotary International, more than 16 million people are walking today who would otherwise have been paralyzed.

That’s more than 16 million people who can walk to school. More than 16 million people who are better able to start a business or carry their child to bed. More than 16 million people who are living better lives, because a group of health care workers, volunteers, government leaders, and funders devoted themselves to fighting polio.

Rotary International is one of the key players in this global coalition. For more than 30 years, their volunteers have traveled to some of the most remote, most dangerous parts of the world to administer vaccines to children. Their members have donated their time and resources to keep eradication on the global agenda. They are part of the reason why we are breathtakingly close to wiping polio off the map for good.

At their annual convention in Atlanta, I encouraged more than 25,000 Rotarians to keep fighting. We’ve gone from 40 cases an hour back in 1988 to just 40 cases in all of 2016. But if we stop now and don’t get to zero, experts say that within a decade there would be 200,000 new cases of polio every year.

We’re closer now than we have ever been to eradication. If groups like Rotary keep going, no person will ever have to suffer from polio again.

Click here for the full text of his Atlanta remarks.

Here is the text of my remarks:

RI, Gates pledge $450M more to fight against polio

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Philanthropist Bill Gates (left) and RI President John Germ announce more global anti-polio funding.
(RI photo)

Screen Shot 2017-06-14 at 5.49.04 PMAs the world inches closer toward eradicating polio, Rotary International and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will spend nearly a half-billion dollars more in an effort to eliminate the disease over the next three years.

Bill Gates joined Rotary President John Germ to announce the pledge at the annual Rotary International Convention that concluded today in Atlanta. It drew nearly 40,000 Rotarians from around the world to a four-day schedule of workshops, panel talks, discussions and reports on Rotary’s various worldwide public service efforts — human trafficking, clean water, education and others. However, it was the latest commitment to polio eradication that made the biggest news.

Beginning July 1, the start of the 2017-18 Rotary Year, the Gates Foundation will match Rotary’s commitment to raise $50 million annually over the next three years on a 2-to-1  basis. That means another $450 million could be added to funds already committed to support efforts to eradicate the disease by 2020.

The matching program adds to a pledge made in 2013, when the Gates Foundation pledged to match Rotary contributions 2-to-1 up to $35 million each year through 2018. With this commitment, the two organizations together will have raised nearly $1.5

Click here to see our new video, “Making Polio History: A Pioneer’s Story.”

billion since 2007 to fight polio.

The money will fund both the administration of oral vaccinations in countries in which children still are at risk for contracting polio, and increasing disease surveillance efforts such as testing sewage water to detect where the virus could still be circulating in communities.

Polio, once found everywhere in the world, now is endemic in only three places — Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria. While the disease, which causes paralysis and even death, is is not curable, it is preventable. Elimination comes through a vigorous campaign of  oral vaccine in conjunction with a series of booster doses that maintain the immunity.

Have you seen our new polio history video?

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Dr. Martha Lepow, circa 1950s

The video “Making Polio History: A Pioneer’s Story” made its debut at the recent District 7190 Conference in Lake George. To help disseminate the word about this important development in educating all Rotarians and the public in general about this insidious disease that has long been a target of Rotary funding and action around the world, we are trying to make the video available to as many people as possible.

This is the story of the disease and the battle against it, as seen through the eyes of a local pediatrician who was among the early anti-polio researchers — Dr. Martha Lepow, seen above in the 1950s.

If you have not yet seen the video, we urge you to watch it now on the new page that has just been added to our club website (click here to visit it). Then, share it with others via Facebook, Twitter, email or any other method you choose.

The video was created through a cooperative effort of the Southern Rensselaer County Rotary Club, Rotary District 7190, CASDA: The Capital Area School Development Association, and the UAlbany School of Public Health.


Our polio video project is under way

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What’s going on with all the technology?
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Martha Lepow and Jim Leyhane in focus.

Videotaping began this week on the polio educational video being created as a joint effort by the Southern Rensselaer County Rotary Club, CASDA, District 7190, and the UAbany School of Public Heath.

The aim is to have the video, which is being underwritten by CASDA, completed in time for a debut showing at the District Conference in Lake George in May.

It is expected that the final product will be available in three different lengths to accommodate different needs.

District Governor John Mucha is narrating the video, which includes Jim Leyhane interviewing Dr. Martha Lepow, an early pioneer in polio research and the Director of Excellence In Pediatric and Adolescent Care at Albany Medical Center. In addition to CASDA providing the technical crew at no cost to the club, members of SRC, the District and the School of Public Heath are volunteering their time.