The younger readers among you may have no memory of poliomyelitis. Older folks may remember avoiding swimming pools and movie theaters for fear of infection, or standing in lines in school yards to be vaccinated. Painter Frida Kahlo, actress Mia Farrow, and violinist Itzhak Perlman all had polio as children. This highly infectious, paralytic, sometimes fatal disease can be prevented by vaccination but can’t be treated or cured.
I was on the staff of Rotary International in the 1980s when Rotary joined with the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to eradicate polio. Thirty years later, the partnership also includes the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), and the global incidence of polio is down more than 99.9%. Wiping poliovirus from the face of the earth, like smallpox before it, is the only way to keep polio from surging back.
World Polio Day events around the world will raise awareness tomorrow, Tuesday, Oct. 24. The main celebration, at BMGF headquarters in Seattle, will be livestreamed. Click here to watch at 2:30 p.m. Pacific Time or view a recording afterward.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.