David Lauderdale

How this Beaufort County group is still fighting to rid the world of polio

A child in Pakistan reads a “speaking book” produced by Brian Julius of Hilton Head Island as part of a worldwide effort to eradicate polio.
A child in Pakistan reads a “speaking book” produced by Brian Julius of Hilton Head Island as part of a worldwide effort to eradicate polio. Submitted

The scourge of polio hits local big screens this week with the movie “Breathe.”

It tells an inspiring story of a great warrior against a disease that left him paralyzed from the neck down.

Polio has been part of many lives here.

For Dr. Bob Laughlin of Hilton Head Island, polio is the childhood image of people living in an iron lung.

For Helen Ryan, retired principal of Hilton Head Island High School, polio is the embarrassment of wearing a leg brace in her own high school days.

For Brian Julius of Hilton Head, it is the relief of fully recovering from polio, but recollections of the widespread panic it brought to parents and full cities in his childhood.

Each will mark World Polio Day on Tuesday with a sense of achievement.

As Rotarians, they have been part of a worldwide effort to wipe the debilitating disease from the planet.

They are almost there.

It is now limited to two nations — Afghanistan and Pakistan — with only 11 confirmed cases so far this year.

That’s down from 350,000 cases in 125 countries in 1988, when Rotary International and the World Health Organization formed the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

Over that period, Beaufort County Rotarians have raised money for the fight in a number of ways, including polo matches, a “Heel to Toe for Polio” beach walk, and they even built a home on Hilton Head from scratch in a week and then raffled it off for the Polio Plus funding campaign.

Julius was honored worldwide for his special contribution — the “Speaking Books” program to carry the messages of polio eradication and healthy living to illiterate populations of the world. Julius has produced more than 60 educational books in 30-plus languages to help convince people to immunize their children and take other steps needed to eradicate polio.

They say that on this World Polio Day, the Northridge Cinema 10 will give a portion of proceeds from concessions during “Breathe” showings to the polio fight.

Rotary International has put more than $2 billion and countless volunteer hours into immunizing 2.5 billion children. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has put hundreds of millions of dollars into it, now matching 2-to-1 money being raised by local Rotarians.

Now they need $1.5 billion for worldwide monitoring, and to achieve three consecutive years of zero cases so polio can be considered eradicated.

“We’re hoping that in a few years, this will be totally a non-event,” Julius said. “We’re hoping it will be done with and polio will be forgotten.”

David Lauderdale: 843-706-8115, @ThatsLauderdale