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Vashon Rotarians to raise funds to fight polio worldwide

Vashon Rotarians are hoping to raise a few thousand dollars next weekend to help eradicate polio worldwide. They’re bringing an iron lung — a contraption once ubiquitous in the treatment of polio — to Vashon, hoping to inform the community about the nearly eliminated disease and raise funds in the fight against it.

Polio, a crippling and sometimes fatal illness, has been stamped out in all but four countries — India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan — thanks to the ambitious efforts of the World Health Organization, UNICEF and Rotary Foundation.

Since 1988, these organizations have immunized more than two billion children around the world against polio, and the incidence of the disease has dropped by more than 99.9 percent.

“We have a chance to eradicate a disease from the earth — how cool is that?” said Vashon Rotarian Craig Hanson. “It’s the kind of thing that once seemed unimaginable, and now it’s imaginable.”

Polio nearly always strikes children under the age of 5, causes paralysis and can be fatal.

There is no cure for polio, and damage caused by it is almost always irreversible, so vaccination is the best way to prevent children from being affected by the disease, according to Rotary officials.

A child can be vaccinated for life for as little as 60 cents worth of vaccine, according to Rotary.

The Vashon Rotary Club is working in concert with Rotary clubs nationwide and internationally to raise $200 million this year to end polio.

Once Rotarians have raised that much money, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will contribute an additional $355 million to aid in the fight.

The aim of the massive fundraising push is to wipe out the disease in the last regions where it is still endemic. And that’s a realistic goal, those involved in the effort said.

“With polio, we’re on the cusp of eradicating it,” said Jenny Sorensen, an Islander and spokesperson for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. “We’ve never been so close to eradicating it as we are right now. … We’re at that point where, if there’s a big push, if people really go for it, we could eradicate it.”

The decimation of the disease, she added, can be largely attributed to Rotary’s efforts to end polio, which have included large-scale immunizations of children and educational campaigns.

Vashon Rotarians have traveled to Ethiopia to volunteer at a national immunization effort there, and many Islanders have personal connections to polio as well, Hanson said.

“Many Islanders have been touched in their lives by polio,” he said. “We’re not that aware of it, because it’s been drastically reduced through the efforts of the World Health Organization and Rotary, … but it’s not that far away in many people’s minds.”

The disease is “horrific,” Sorensen added.

“Polio has been devastating for so many years. It’s responsible for so much death,” she said. “And we have the opportunity to get rid of it.”

Donate

An iron lung will be on display at Vashon High School on Thursday, April 29. On Friday, April 30, and Saturday, May 1, Rotarians will be outside Thriftway with the iron lung, seeking donations in the fight against polio and explaining the significance of their efforts. On April 30 and May 1, Islanders can also purchase “Care Cards” at Thriftway, adding a few dollars to their grocery bill that will be donated to Rotary’s efforts.

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