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Jonas Salk, the man who kick-started the global vaccination efforts against Polio that have seen the disease eradicated in all but three countries would be 100 years old today (28 October). Yet, despite praising the pioneer’s historical efforts, The British Polio Fellowship has highlighted a very real struggle affecting 120,000 survivors that are far from over in the UK and still going unnoticed.
Salk’s vaccine was declared publicly safe to use in 1957 after years of testing. In the two years before his vaccine was available, the number of Polio cases across the US was 45,000, by 1962 that number had dropped to just 910 cases per year. Salk died at age 80 on 23 June, 1995.
“At its height the Polio virus killed or paralysed over half a million people worldwide every year. Salk’s vaccine saved millions of people from the terrible effects of Polio and it is important that he is remembered for that,” said Ted Hill MBE, CEO of The British Polio Fellowship. “Yet, since then, medical research has noted that 120,000 survivors of the disease are now suffering with the late effects of Polio and a condition called Post Polio Syndrome (PPS) in the UK.”
PPS is a debilitating neurological condition that causes increased muscle fatigue, reduced stamina, a range of aches and pains and a greater sensitivity to cold – a very real problem as we enter the winter. Despite the condition affecting a similar amount of people as Parkinson’s disease, many in the medical profession and the broader public are still unaware of the disease.
On 22 October The British Polio Fellowship marked PPS Day 2014 with a special event at the Palace of Westminster to raise awareness about the threat posed by PPS and encourage the government to do more to tackle the problem. “Jonas Salk helped to stop new cases of Polio and he did a fine job,” said Ted, “however the fight against Polio is still going on right here in Britain and it is time that we finished the job.”
The British Polio Fellowship is calling for a national strategy to be developed and implemented by the Department of Health to deal with PPS survivors in the UK. It involves raising medical awareness, raising public awareness and helping those affected by providing them with greater energy allowances throughout the winter to protect them from their greater sensitivity to the cold.
“If something isn’t done now to prepare the health service for the huge number of people set to develop PPS then in a few short years we will have a very serious problem on our hands,” said Ted. “At present 69% of GPs say that they don’t feel confident diagnosing someone with PPS and that lack of awareness needs to change, if it doesn’t then Polio survivors may miss out on much needed treatment and therapy.”
The British Polio Fellowship aims to support, help and empower Polio survivors in daily life and help them face the challenges brought on by PPS. If you would like more information or would like to join The British Polio Fellowship then please visit www.britishpolio.org or call 0800 043 1935.