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Rotarian persistence key in effort to fight polio

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IN far too many minds polio has been consigned to the dustbins of history, wiped out by the miraculous Salk vaccine introduced more than a half century ago.

There is a measure of truth in that belief ... but only a measure.

The disease that spread throughout the world in the 1940s and ’50s claiming thousands of lives and crippling untold thousands more was one of the worst epidemics in this country’s history. Entire communities essentially quarantined themselves out of fear about the contagion of the disease.

There were genuine concerns that the disease could not be checked, worries that were eased and eventually erased when Dr. Jonas Salk introduced his vaccine.

In less than a decade the epidemic had been arrested. Reports of the disease slowed to a trickle, and eventually those reports were considered rare events.

But polio had not been eradicated. In some parts of the developing world it is still an epidemic. The reason is very simple. Millions of people in these countries — an alarming number are children — have not been immunized.

One organization, Rotary International, has dedicated itself to a simple but also overwhelming task — immunizing all of the world’s children.

In many respects the Rotary mission is a true grass-roots effort as evidenced by members in individual clubs volunteering their time and resources to travel to remote locations around the world where they assist in the immunization program.

Earlier this week two members of the Columbus Sunrise Rotary Club — Karl Kuehner and Charles Dewey — spoke about their experiences while volunteering on missions in such far-flung locales as India, Niger and Nigeria.

They are only two of many local Rotarians who have taken part in these expeditions organized by the international organization. Their work and that of their fellow Rotarians have yielded impressive and life-saving results. Since the launch of the Polio Plus Program by Rotary International in 1985, the number of countries where polio is endemic has been reduced to three — Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.

Certainly the international organization deserves high praise for sustaining this enormous undertaking.

It would not have been possible however without the selfless dedication of individual members like Kuehner, Dewey and a number of other local residents who have abandoned the comfort of their homes to spend weeks in primitive conditions so that children will have the opportunity to become adults.

They can say that they have saved lives.

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