November 25th, 2020

Work to end polio once and for all continues

By COLLIN GALLANT on October 24, 2020.

The Medicine Hat News, April 12, 1955 edition showing that a vaccine has been found for polio.--NEWS ARCHIVES

cgallant@medicinehatnews.com@CollinGallant

Work to protect the world’s children from the crippling effects of polio continues 65 years after a safe reliable vaccine was certified.

That work is being highlighted this week in Medicine Hat, where local members of the Rotary Club are discussing the global effort of the service club, as well as Medicine Hat’s own experience with poliomyelitis.

“The test then was that if you (bend over) and put your chin to your knees, then you were OK,” said Kitt Brandt, who presented for members this week about the local history. “I still remember all the adults watching and whispering.

“It was absolutely terrifying.”

Closed swimming pools to guard against “infantile paralysis” were the norm before the late 1950s when the Salk Vaccine became widely available.

During the worst outbreak year in Medicine Hat, 85 cases were recorded in 1937, when the town had 9,600 residents. Local records are incomplete, but according to News archives, there were three deaths among 40 cases in the region in 1953. In 1944 a total of 26 cases were dealt with by local health officials.

Brandt said she’s been in contact with several survivors but they are reluctant to discuss it publicly.

Since the mid-1980s three local Rotary Chapters have fundraised heavily to help eradicate wild polio in the developing world.

The club is undertaking an effort to raise $50 million per year globally in a matching program with the Gates Foundation to stamp out the disease completely.

More information can be found at “www.endpolio.org.”

Wild polio is considered eradicated in 99.9 per cent of the world, but progress has reversed in areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan where unrest makes programs difficult.

As well, much of the infrastructure of the polio program is being turned to track and combat the COVID-19 pandemic in developing countries. Similar aid was offered in the mid-2010s during Ebola outbreaks.

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