When Rotary International decided to take on the task of eradicating polio back the 1980s there were 125 countries with the virus and over 350,000 children infected, now there are only around 100 cases in two countries.
“In a normal situation, the job would be done already,” said Pieter Koeleman, one of the chairs of the Campbell River Rotary’s End Polio Now committee.
Earlier this year, the World Health Organization declared Africa free of the wild polio virus. That left Afghanistan and Pakistan as the two remaining countries with the virus still present. With cases down to around 100 spread in the two countries, complete eradication could be coming shortly.
“The only other worldwide disease that was certified as being eradicated is smallpox,” said co-chair Gary McLelan. “That happened in 1980, so polio would be the second virus worldwide that would be eradicated. Smallpox was first, and hopefully soon polio would be the second to be eradicated.”
Koeleman said that a major reason for the eradication not happening any sooner is the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the situation in Afghanistan and in Pakistan is difficult to navigate for healthcare workers, which makes a full eradication of the virus a tall order.
“In Pakistan and Afghanistan there are hostilities going on and also those two countries the healthcare workers are in danger too. It makes it difficult and they can’t go full speed ahead. They need guards with them to protect them. It’s a difficult situation,” Koeleman said. “This takes a long time.”
The local chapter is gearing up for their annual pumpkin auction fundraiser, which raises money to go towards the global effort to eradicate the virus. However, this year things will be a bit different. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the auction will be moving online this year. On Oct. 26, 27 and 28, people will have the chance to bid on carved pumpkins on the Rotary website.
“There’s also a donate function on that platform, so if people don’t necessarily want to bid on a pumpkin, people can donate,” McLelan said. “It’s a simple registration process, so that way we can stay in touch with all the people.”
Since they started raising funds for the cause in the 1980s, Koeleman said that the local chapter of Rotary has raised over $90,000. Globally, Rotary has a goal to raise $50 million, which their partner the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will double-meet.
“That goes for our donations too, let’s say we raise $10,000, then effectively, we’ll have $30,000 towards polio eradication,” Koeleman said.
Rotary has teamed up with the Campbell River Arts Society and First Nations carvers to create the pumpkins. Donations and bids can be made online.
Donations are open now, and the pumpkin auction will take place on Oct. 26, 27 and 28.