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Wakefield Rotary Plunges for Polio

The Wakefield Team raised almost $19k for polio eradication.
The Wakefield Team raised almost $19k for polio eradication.

To raise awareness and critically-needed funds to fight the crippling disease polio, 41 participants representing the Rotary Club of Wakefield plunged into the icy waters off of Gloucester as part of the Rotary District 7930’s 4th Annual Polar Plunge earlier this month. The effort raised just over $75,000  for Rotary International, the volunteer fundraising arm of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative—a public-private partnership that also includes the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Wakefield Team alone contributed $18,902 of the total for the district.

“This year was our biggest team over the past 3 years and it showed our commitment to this initiative,” noted Club President Shibu James. This year’s team comprised of 11 active Rotarians, 6 staff members from HD Physical Therapy, 17 Wakefield Interact and National Honor Society teens, 3 friends of the club and 1 teen from North Reading. Wakefield Interact Club President Kim Green added, “It was also the biggest team our teen club has ever had. We’ll definitely do it again next year!” In fact, the teens alone raised $1,936. With a 2:1 match from the Gates Foundation, the Wakefield Club’s total contribution was $56,706. At just 60 cents per polio vaccine, the team was able to fund over 94,000 vaccines to be administered worldwide.

The Polar Plunge comes at an important time in the fight to eradicate polio, which would be only the second human disease to be eradicated. Case numbers of the disease have never been lower, and only three countries (Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan) have never stopped transmission of the wild poliovirus. Earlier this year, India was removed from the endemic list and proved that international partnering is a successful strategy to tackling diseases. However, a funding gap means immunization campaigns are being cut in high-risk countries, leaving children more vulnerable to polio. If polio isn’t stopped now, the disease could stage a comeback, affecting an estimated 200,000 children every year.

Rotary, a humanitarian service organization with nearly 34,000 clubs in more than 200 countries and geographical areas, made polio eradication its top priority in 1985.  Rotary has since contributed US$1.2 billion, and its members have logged countless volunteer hours to help immunize more than two billion children in 122 countries. Overall, remarkable progress has been achieved in the fight against polio. Since 1988, the number of polio cases has been reduced from 350,000 a year to fewer than 700 cases in 2011. The Americas were declared free from polio in 1994, the Western Pacific region in 2000, and Europe in 2002.   

A highly infectious disease, polio still strikes children mainly under the age of five in parts of Africa and South Asia. Polio can cause paralysis and sometimes death.  There is no cure for polio, but for as little as 60 cents worth of oral vaccine, a child can be protected from the disease for life.  

“Our club is really focused on local service projects,” commented James. “But it’s important that we remember we’re part of a bigger global community. This polar plunge is just one way we can connect with a worldwide effort and benefit children internationally.” The event was well covered by WCAT and will be available for viewing on the channel for the next few weeks. For further information on the effort to eradicate polio, visit www.endpolionow.org.


 

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