World Polio Day event urges complete eradication of polio

Amy Whyte, Assistant Campus Editor

Emmy-winning actress Archie Panjabi on Thursday spoke about the importance of polio eradication as part of World Polio Day 2013 at Northwestern’s Chicago campus.

Panjabi, star of CBS’ “The Good Wife,” was just one speaker at the event co-hosted by Rotary International and NU’s Center for Global Health.

Though polio became entirely preventable after a vaccine was introduced in 1955, it continues to infect children in Africa and the Middle East, said Dr. Bruce Aylward, assistant director-general for polio, emergencies and country collaboration at the World Health Organization. Polio is a viral disease that can cause paralysis.

“The vaccine costs 15 cents a dose to give — it’s not appropriate that we have a vaccine that has completely protected children here in the West while it still paralyzes children worldwide,” Aylward said.

The event was live-streamed to a global audience from John Hughes Auditorium. Other speakers included Dr. Robert Murphy, director of the Center for Global Health and Dennis Ogbe, a U.S. paralympian. Rotary Club member Jennifer Jones hosted the talk.

Thanks to Rotary and other worldwide efforts to eradicate polio, only three countries have never completely eliminated the disease: Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. However, Aylward said that as long as polio remains in those three nations, it can still reinfect other countries around the world.

“These viruses will continue to spread, and they sometimes spread with devastating effect,” he said. “Getting this close just isn’t close enough. We have to complete the eradication to deliver on the promise of a polio-free world.”

Murphy encouraged those at the event and viewers worldwide not to give up on the fight against polio.

“We have the tools, we are so close,” he said. “To stop short now would be immoral and unethical.”

Ogbe, a polio survivor who now serves as an ambassador for the United Nations Foundation’s [email protected] program, related a sentiment his father told him while he struggled with paralysis growing up.

“My father always told me, it’s not how you start that matters, it’s how you finished,” he said. “So let us finish strong and end polio now.”

Panjabi, the event’s final speaker, reiterated the importance of working to eradicate polio. She described living in India as a child and seeing other children with missing limbs, not realizing at the time that they were victims of polio. Now that India is polio-free, Panjabi said she is “incredibly proud” of the work that has been done.

“I got to vaccinate some of the children, which was actually incredible, just seeing that those two drops saved them for the rest of their life from ever catching polio,” she said.

Panjabi urged attendees and online viewers to join her in the fight against polio.
“Together we can eradicate polio forever,” she said.

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