The Cambridge Winter Hawks took to the ice Oct. 20 sporting “purple pinkies,” and though it didn’t seem to help their game much, as they lost yet another close game at the hands of the Brampton Bombers, it helped educate people on the dangers of polio and the need to eradicate it throughout the Third World.
The significance of the “Purple Pinkie Project” is that when children are vaccinated for polio in affected countries, their pinkies are dyed purple to show that they’ve been vaccinated and prevent an accidental double dosage.
For over 27 years, the Rotary Club has been working to eradicate this crippling childhood disease, with great success. Last year there were no new reported cases of polio in India, said Hajra Wilson, district chair for Polio Plus.
“It’s not just a disease in the Third World, if we don’t eradicate it in Pakistan and Africa, someone could come with the virus and re-infect us here in Canada,” Wilson said.
Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization, calls the more than 1.2 million Rotarians tireless partners in the polio eradication effort.
“This entire initiative began because of the vision of Rotary International,” Chan said.
This is the second year the Winter Hawks have sponsored this event which, according to Annie Knight, spokesperson for the Winter Hawks, is a way to educate people and make them aware of the potential dangers of polio and its effects on children.
“While it would be a great opportunity to try and raise money for the Purple Pinkie Project, Rotary International’s primary role in this event with the Winter Hawks is awareness about the necessity to eradicate polio in those countries where it remains endemic,” Knight said.
Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus. It invades the nervous system and can cause irreversible nerve damage in hours. Though the disease can strike at any age it primarily affects children under five years of age.
The disease is spread by person-to-person contact. The virus enters through the mouth and then quickly spreads to the intestines and then sheds into the environment through the child’s feces. Since most young children are not yet toilet trained, the disease is passed on quite easily by caregivers who don’t not wash properly after changing the child and who then handle food.
There is no cure for polio, only treatment to alleviate the symptoms.
However, polio can be prevented with immunizations if the polio vaccine is given three times over 18 months, beginning at two months; it almost always protects a child for life. And the cost is as little as 60 cents to protect a child.
Polio has been eradicated from 99 per cent of the world; only Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan remain. But Wilson cautions that as long as one child remains infected, there is always a risk of resurgence, putting children around the world in danger of contracting the disease.
So even though the Winter Hawks were not victorious on this night, their help in educating the public in the worldwide fight against polio was far more important than any “W” in the win column could have ever been.