FAIRBANKS — Fairbanks Rotary Club hosted members of the public and all five of the Interior’s rotary clubs for a special speech on polio eradication Thursday. Ann Lee Hussey, a polio survivor, eradication advocate and White House Honoree traveled to Fairbanks to speak for the event.
Hussey spoke in front of about 150 Rotarians from throughout the Interior at a special lunch session, according to Jo Kuchle, president of the Fairbanks chapter.
Hussey spoke again in the evening for community members at the Carlson Center. The room was not as filled for the evening session — a couple dozen audience members were in attendance.
Hussey contracted polio at the age of 17 months, the same year Jonas Salk invented the polio vaccine that would later eradicate polio in the United States. At the time Hussey contracted the disease, however, the vaccine had not made its way to many parts of the country.
Before Hussey’s evening speech, the director of pediatrics at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, Dr. Laura Brunner, gave introductory remarks on the importance of vaccination. Brunner was introduced by her father, himself a past president of the Fairbanks Rotary Club.
“Polio may not seem like it’s down the street from you, but our goal is to keep it that way,” Dr. Brunner said.
Rotary International operates a program called PolioPlus with the purpose of eradicating Polio permanently. If their efforts succeed, polio would become only the second disease affecting people to be eradicated by human efforts, in addition to small pox.
The PolioPlus program is operated in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has promised to match all donations 2-to-1.
In 1985, when Rotary and other organizations launched their eradication efforts, reported cases of polio were as high as 350,000 each year. In 2012, 223 total polio cases were reported.
In 1988, the number of polio-endemic countries was in the triple digits. Now, there are only three: Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Many experts expect polio will be entirely eradicated before 2020, but that requires increased vaccination efforts, especially in the developing world.