GENEVA – Geneva Rotary and the DECA club at Geneva High School will be seeking contributions to eradicate polio in the world this week – and they started with Mayor Kevin Burns at the Oct. 21 City Council meeting by painting his pinkie purple to show he donated.
Speaking to the council, Geneva Rotary President Charles Miles said the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will donate $2 for each $1 donated through Oct. 24, World Polio Day.
“One dollar becomes three, enough to buy five vaccines,” Miles said.
Polio is known as a paralyzing and potentially deadly infectious disease that most commonly affects children under the age of 5.
“In the late 1980s, there was almost 1,000 people a day afflicted with polio. Over 350,000 cases a year around the world,” Miles said. “In 1989, Rotary started to partner with the World Health Organization, United Nations, and other agencies, to start trying to eradicate polio around the world. The only disease that is eradicated is smallpox.”
Last year, there were three countries that still had live polio, Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, Miles said.
“Nigeria has gone one year without any polio reports,” Miles said. “The bad news is, last year we had 30 cases in those other two countries, now there’s about 88 (cases of) polio in Pakistan and Afghanistan.”
Miles said sectarian violence in those countries makes it challenging to get access to people to provide them with vaccines.
Miles said as more countries in the western world are disregarding the efficacy of vaccines, “That certainly puts all of us at risk.”
“We are all just one airplane ride from this disease coming back,” Miles said.
Since Rotary got involved with these other agencies, $7 billion has been raised and some 16 million people around the world can walk, as a result of polio being almost eradicated, Miles said.
“It’s not completely eradicated,” Miles said. “Rotarians are going to keep at it until it’s fully eradicated.”
The partnership with DECA is new this year, Miles said.
DECA, which stands for Distributive Education Clubs of America, a business club for students interested in business as a career.
“We brought up to them the idea of running our Purple Pinkie Program,” Miles said.
Five students from the DECA leadership team – Bret Schwardt, Grace Leone, Anna Kressler, Julianna Longo and Jack Lamanna – also attended, and like Miles, wore bright red T-shirts declaring “End Polio Now.”
Schwardt, vice president of philanthropy of DECA said the club’s teacher advisory Jamie Dunlap suggested the club getting involved with the Purple Pinkie Program.
“I don’t have polio. No one I know has polio. Who cares, right?” Schwardt said, explaining his initial reaction.
“After doing some research, I found out that Rotary has been very good in fighting this disease that vaccinated 124 countries and raised billions of dollars, so it’s great to be a part of a project that is so close to the finish line … with two countries left,” Schwardt said. “We’re down to hundreds of people having this disease instead of millions. Polio was something a president could have and now it’s all but gone.”
Schwardt was referring to Franklin Delano Roosevelt who was diagnosed in the 1920s.
On World Polio Day Oct. 24, Schwardt said the club would be encouraging students and staff to donate their spare change.
The students called it the Purple Pinkie Project because after giving money, the donor would get his or her pinkie fingernail painted purple – as children who are vaccinated get their pinkie painted purple to show they've been vaccinated.
Burns offered the first dollar for the cause, resulting in Leone painting his pinkie purple.
“If I gave you five bucks, can I get a French tip?” Burns joked.
Then one by one, other aldermen stepped up, donating cash and accepting a purple pinkie.
Aldermen then approved a proclamation declaring Oct. 24 as World Polio Day in Geneva, acknowledging that Rotary launched PolioPlus in 1985 and spearheaded a Global Polio Eradication Initiative.
“Which today includes the World Health Organization, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to immunize all children of the world against polio,” according to the proclamation.
“Polio cases have dropped by over 99.9% since 1988 and now stands on the threshold of eradicating this dread disease and thereby eliminating the threat of polio-caused paralysis to every child in the world.”
Donations can also be made directly online at the Rotary website, www.rotary.org.