Rotary campaign aims to eradicate polio

Rotary Club Cape of Good Hope Rotarians in their End Polio Now shirts at a Rotary meeting on World Polio Day, Tuesday October 24. From left are Jane White, Bev Frieslich, Marge Upfold, guest speaker Ralph Reynolds and Rotary president Ray White.

The Rotary Club Cape of Good Hope celebrated World Polio Day on Tuesday October 24 with a walk and photoshoot on Signal Hill.

The event was themed “Focus on the Finish: The Polio Endgame Photoshoot”, which forms part of Rotary International’s End Polio Now campaign.

The aim of the campaign is to raise funds to completely eradicate the infectious paralytic disease that has been largely contained worldwide.

According to Rotary International, funds are needed to immunise more than 400 million children against polio every year, improve disease surveillance to detect any poliovirus in a person or the environment and employ more than 150 000 health workers to go door-to-door to find every child in need of help.

Rotary Club Cape of Good Hope, Rotary Club of Blouberg, Rotary Club of Cape Town, Hermanus Rotary Club, Rotary Club of Newlands, Pinelands Rotary Club, Cape Town Rotary Club of Sea Point and Waterfront Rotary Club all participated in the event along with a visitor from Kabalagala Rotary Club in Uganda.

The Rotary Cape of Good Hope concluded the day with a talk by guest speaker Ralph Reynolds at The Galley.

Mr Reynolds, of Ocean View, was diagnosed with polio as a baby.

He said he was a “home birth” and had not been vaccinated. When he could not walk at one year old, his mother took him to the doctor.

“She was told that I had polio but that I will ‘grow out of it’,” he said.

At the age of two, his left foot had become skewed and he was walking on the side of his foot. He had several operations to flatten his foot, but despite wearing a boot with a brace just below the knee, his left leg is about 5cm shorter than his right leg.

He said his teenage years had been difficult as he had been teased at school.

However, he said, at a young age he had realised he was “human” and wanted to show people he was “human”.

“I started bodybuilding at the age of 12 years and that gave me the courage to start playing sports like soccer, and people started accepting me the way I am,” he said.

This was followed by table tennis and then wheelchair basketball.

“I was young and wanted to tour the world. I was motivated to work even harder after attending a tournament in Johannesburg,” he said.

Mr Reynolds is the coach for the Mother City Wheelers, which is part of Wheelchair Basketball South Africa, and he has started Deep South Sport for Disabled, a group where anyone with a disability can participate in a sporting activity.

According to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), the last confirmed case of poliovirus in South Africa was in 1989.

However, the risk of “importation” still remains high due to the high degree of movement and migration of people to South Africa.

The three countries in which polio has not been eradicated are Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria, according to the NICD.

The NICD states that the poliovirus is transmitted primarily by person-to-person spread through the faecal-oral route.

In rare occasions, the virus may spread by contaminated water or food.

According to an article, “Is polio making a comeback,” in The Yale School of Medicine, an unvaccinated New York adult suffered paralysis in June last year from polio, the first case in New York since 1990.

Wastewater surveillance later found the virus had been spreading silently in the New York City area for months.

The poliovirus is highly infectious and invades the nervous system and can cause total paralysis within a few hours.

According to a 2017 NICD report, poliovirus cases have decreased by more than 99% since 1988, from an estimated 350 000 cases a year in 1988 to 74 reported cases in 2015, worldwide.

There are three strains of poliovirus and all three types cause paralysis.

Director of child health for the provincial health department, Sonia Botha, said the department had started capturing and reporting on all polio vaccines in April this year.

Historically, she said, the country had depended on polio drops scheduled at birth and six weeks, and those statistics had been captured previously.

“Since polio is mostly eradicated, we cannot account for the past, but with the current reporting in place, we will only be able to measure the numbers of vaccinations at a later stage.”

Ms Botha said a hexavalent vaccine – a six-in-one-shot offering protection against multiple diseases – that uses inactive poliovirus is given in South Africa. The primary doses are provided at 6, 10, and 14 weeks, with a booster dose at 18 months.

Rotary Club Cape of Good Hope Rotarians on Signal Hill during the “Focus on the Finish: The Polio Endgame Photoshoot” on Tuesday October 24. From left are, Jane White, president Ray White, Bev Frieslich and Marge Upfold.
A group photo of Rotarians who participated in the “Focus on the Finish: The Polio Endgame Photoshoot” on Tuesday October 24 at Signal Hill.