Last Thursday was a memorable milestone in the history of Rotary International when World Polio Day was celebrated around the globe and in Polokwane, local resident and anti-polio activist Jack Schofield, who is a member of the Rotary Club of Pietersburg 100, reflected on Rotary’s successful involvement in the eradication of polio.
“To many people in South Africa nowadays, polio is actually not known as there have not been any recorded cases in the past 20 years. Rotary’s first fight against polio started in 1979 with a project to immunise six million children in the Philippines. This developed into an undertaking by Rotary International in 1985 to launch what became known as the Polio Plus Campaign, the first and largest internationally co-ordinated private-sector support of a public health initiative with the initial target of raising $120 million,” Schofield explained.
In 1988 there were an estimated 350,000 cases of polio in 125 countries and Rotary together with the World Health Organisation launched the Global Polio Eradication Initiative to rid the world of the polio virus, according to Schofield.
“Together with the commitment of over one million Rotarians, the United Nations Children Fund and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation who undertook to match all funds collected by Rotary at 2 to 1, the fight for a polio free world has reached a 99% success. The latest reports show all of Africa is polio free and the only reported cases in the world have been in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Schofield added.
Schofield’s personal knowledge and involvement in polio goes back quite a long time to when he had only left school and had to visit a friend who was in hospital lying in an iron lung with polio. “That was during the early fifties when polio was quite prevalent and left many people with paralyses and disfigurement. One of my Rotary Club members, as well as a family member had polio when they were young but fortunately have not been left with any noticeable defects. My further personal involvement was in 2001 when I went to India as a Rotary Group Study Exchange Leader together with other Rotarians. We were visiting and went walking and riding scooters and immunising more than 500 children on a particular day,” Schofield recalls.
Story and photos: BARRY VILJOEN