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World Polio Day: Let's Talk about The Other One Percent

Posted Oct 24 2012 9:31am
Child receiving the oral polio vaccine in Nigeria. Credit: UN
Today is World Polio Day. 

Now most of you will go to work, try to resist the Halloween candy or otherwise go about your business without thinking about polio again. You don't have to. You don't need to. You like me and so many fortunate parents today have the luxury of not knowing this virus that once upon a time in this country alone paralyzed 20,000 people and killed up to a thousand each year, mostly children. You don't need to worry about getting the vaccine.  You don't need to stay up nights wondering if your kids will get the disease and if they do, if they will survive.  Most parents do not have to worry.  Ninety-nine percent of us.

But there are still mothers and fathers out there who do need to worry. 

Kids are still crippled and killed by polio.  Kid still don't have the vaccine.  Kids in Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan where polio is still endemic .

Some people here in the United States remember polio.  My mother remembers the fear, my father, the summers without swimming.  My father-in-law remembers it very well.  He contracted polio when he was sixteen, the only visual reminder a skinnier leg and minor limp. Ask your parents, your aunts, uncles, the senior citizen next door.  They all remember.

As an advocate for the United Nations Foundation and their Shot At Life campaign I had the opportunity this week to speak at a state convention packed with women, including a lot of seniors. I'd had to change my talk a bit because originally I thought the crowd was going to be filled with younger women, you know, people who didn't have any first-hand knowledge or memories of polio.  Due to some technical difficulties getting the Shot At Life video to play I had a few minutes for some extended audience participation.  So I conducted a little survey.

Have you or anyone in your families had polio? 

A hush fell over the room.  Quite a few hands went up. A lady sitting at the front a foot away leaned towards me and said that she was a polio survivor.  She knew. She nodded her head throughout the rest of my talk and shed a tear. 

Do you know anyone who had polio?  More than half the crowd raised hands.

Measles? Most hands up.

Those ladies remembered.  They understood and what's more, they wanted to talk about it and they also wanted to do something about it. So many asked me for more information, for the handout, for the Shot At Life website. I suspect there's a large volunteer army out there ready to end polio.  They just don't do social media. 

Here's the good news.  Since 1985, polio has been wiped out of 99% of the countries where it once claimed many victims.  UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has made ending polio a priority.  Many world leaders actually put aside their differences and have pledged their support to ending polio.  Last month I sat at the United Nations and listened as Ban Ki-Moon, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and others including Bill Gates called for a final push to end polio (see my post Ending Polio: The Other One Percent ).

Go to ShotatLife.org .  Go to Endpolionow.org.   Sign the End of Polio petition . Add your face to the World's Biggest Commercial .  My kids are so gonna add their photos later.  Watch Amanda Peet, Actor, Mother of Two and Every Child By Two Ambassador as she helps slam the door on polio. Join the #UNDay Twitter Party from 1-2pm, along with @NPRGlobalHealth using the #endpolio hash-tag. Read We can't afford to lose the fight against polio  written by US paralympian Dennis Ogbe and polio survivor.

At the dinner table tonight, call grandma, call grandpa.  Ask about polio. 

UPDATE: Further reading in honor of World Polio Day by my fellow Shot At Life champions 40 years of Memories, Moments and Milestones by Jennifer Batchelor DeFranco
1% Makes a Difference at MOMentum by Myrdin Thompson
World Polio Day and the unfinished campaign against polio by Nicole Melancon
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