The pupils and staff of Ringwood School not only broke the World record for the number of people wearing “Onesies” but also contributed £400 to the Rotary International campaign to End Polio Now. This was the third time in the last few years that the school has been involved in raising funds for polio eradication. In February 2010 they held a “Purple Pinkie” Day and later that year they planted Purple Crocuses in the school grounds and also in the Danny Cracknell Memorial Gardens.

Why “Purple Pinkies”? Children who receive the polio vaccine have their little fingers marked with a purple dye. This enables those giving the two drops of the polio vaccine to ensure that all children have been immunised.

Rotary has been driving this campaign for nearly 30 years. Jonas Salk first produced a polio vaccine in 1953 and in 1962 Albert Sabin produced an oral vaccine. As soon as the oral vaccine became available, Rotary had a major project to eliminate polio in the Philippines. The success of this project inspired Rotarians to get the support of the World Health Organisation, UNICEF, the US Centres for Disease Control and the Governments of the World to rid the world of Polio. When the campaign comes to its successful conclusion in a few years time this will be only the second disease that man has manage to eliminate. The only one so far is smallpox. When the campaign began there were nearly 1,000 new cases of polio every day and 125 countries were polio endemic. In 2012 there were 223 cases in the whole year and only 3 endemic countries. These countries are Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria and finishing the task is not going to be easy.

Not long ago India was the biggest polio problem area and two Rotarians from Ringwood, Alan Hollands and Alan Olson took part in national Immunisation Days one in Delhi and the other in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. On National Immunisation days in India 150 million children are immunised. Strictly speaking it is not just one day. Following the major event on a Sunday teams go house to house to ensure that all children are immunised. Hence the importance of the “purple pinkie”. The really good news is that India has not had a case of polio for more than three years and will soon be declared polio free. This has been due to a magnificent effort by Rotarians and other community leaders. Not long ago, in the areas of India that were endemic children were being immunised eight times a year because the poor health of the children weakened the ability of the two drops of vaccine to ‘stick’ and be effective. This determination has been successful.

Polio is still only one air flight away from any country in the world and in the last few years countries that have been declared polio free have had new, imported cases. New strategies have been successful in containing and eliminating the cases in these countries but as long as the wild vaccine remains in the 3 endemic countries it could possibly arrive anywhere including the UK. It only takes an infected child to travel and make contact with someone here who has not been immunised and we could have a case in this country.

For further information about Rotary’s ‘End Polio Now’ contact Rotarian Alan Hollands at foundation@rotary1110.org.

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