Today@Sam Article

SHSU, Rotary To Bring Polio Fight To Campus

Jan. 14, 2015
SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt

Polio, a deadly virus that many believe had been nearly eradicated because of vaccinations, has more recently had a resurgence in the Middle East and Africa, sparking public health officials to warn Americans that, like with the recent Ebola scare, the polio virus is just a plane ride away.

To raise awareness and critically needed funds to help fight the crippling disease, Sam Houston State University has joined with the Huntsville Rotary Club to host a series of events on Jan. 29.

child receiving the polio vaccine
Children can be protected from polio for life for as little as 60 cents worth of oral vaccine. SHSU and the Huntsville Rotary Club will work to eradicate the deadly virus by raising funds to ensure children can receive the vaccinations in the three countries where the virus is still prevalent. —Photo from

“Vaccination awareness is so important because many people are forgoing the practice of vaccinating their children,” said Darren Williams, associate professor of chemistry and Rotary Club president.

“There is no cure for polio or many other viruses that are making comebacks due to apathy or antipathy toward vaccination. Therefore, it is very important that we inform students, faculty, staff, and the community about the societal benefits of vaccination generally, and the final push to eradicate polio specifically,” he said. “One estimate from reports that the eradication of polio will save the world from $40 to $50 billion over the next 20 years.”

SHSU’s activities will feature four main events, beginning with an iron lung display from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Lowman Student Center Mall Area. Students can stop by the information table—staffed by student organizations—where donation jars will be used to see which college raises the most money. Donors also can take photos in front of a backdrop to share on social media about the fundraising campaign.

“Polio is a paralyzing disease that often attacks the legs, leading to paralysis and deformity. Sometimes it attacks the muscles needed for breathing,” Williams said. “In 1927, Philip Drinker and Louis Agassiz Shaw, of Harvard University, invented a tank-like respirator commonly called an iron lung. Later, John Emerson improved the device to feature a sliding bed and portal windows so nurses could better care for the patient.”

In 1959, there were 1,200 people using iron lungs in the United States. This number fell to just 39 by 2004, according to Williams.

The iron lung that will be on display is owned by Hugh Summers, a Rotarian from Palestine, who displays it at Rotary conventions and youth events.

“Seeing the iron lung really brings home the tragic nature of polio-related paralysis. I don’t think anyone can look at it without saying, ‘what if that were me?,’” Williams said. “An article in the Blue Ridge Country magazine reports on Wytheville’s Summer Without Children, where the small town of 5000 had 200 cases of polio in 1950. We will display images from that article, and talk about Wytheville resident Lee Hale who spent his last 32 years in an iron lung.”

Vaccination Awareness 
Day & Fundraiser 
Schedule of Events

Iron Lung Display 
See the tank-like respirator used to aid polio patients from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the LSC Mall Area.

Lunch presentation, w/ Mike Berger
Learn about Rotary's international immunization efforts over a free lunch at noon in the LSC Ballroom. RSVP orDarren Williams at 936.294.1529.

Disease eradication panel discussion
Featuring Berger and three SHSU professors, at 2 p.m. in the LSC Theater.

Fun Run/Walk
Take the half-k challenge, donate to polio immunization and get a free T-shirt.


At noon, faculty, staff and community members can learn more about worldwide polio vaccination efforts over a complimentary lunch in the LSC Ballroom.

“Mike Berger, the Rotary District 5910 polio fundraising chairman, will discuss the practice of holding a National Immunization Day in countries where the vaccination effort is the strongest,” Williams said. “He participated in India’s NID, and he will share his photos and experiences of traveling to India’s remote villages to vaccinate children.

“He will also speak to the logistics of the effort as well as the need for a Non-Governmental Organization like Rotary in these efforts,” he said. “Rotary International does not represent the interests of any one government, therefore it is welcome in many places where other government-sponsored health organizations find resistance.”

Seating is limited, and those interested in attending are encouraged to RSVP or toWilliams at 936.294.1529.

Following lunch, a panel discussion on the logistics of global immunization, the history of disease eradication, and the safety of modern vaccines will feature Berger, associate professor of history Jeff Littlejohn, associate professor of bacterial physiology Todd Primm, and will be moderated by associate professor of chemistry Donovan Haines. It will begin at 2 p.m. in the LSC Theater.

Finally, the day will end with a 0.5k Fun Run/Walk in the LSC Mall Area at 4 p.m.

The run will raise funds for polio eradication and awareness of the societal benefits of vaccination—and allow participants to get a little exercise. Runners and walkers are required to give a donation for participation, and all participants will receive a commemorative T-shirt.

While polio case numbers have never been lower, the disease is still pervasive in three countries; Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan have never stopped transmission of the wild poliovirus.

However, a funding gap means immunization campaigns are being cut in high-risk countries, leaving children more vulnerable to polio. If polio isn’t stopped now, the disease could stage a comeback, affecting an estimated 200,000 children every year.

The effort will raise money for Rotary International, the volunteer fundraising arm of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative—a public-private partnership that also includes the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Donations to this fundraising campaign are eligible for a 2:1 match by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, meaning for every $1 donated, $3 will go towards the fight to End Polio Now, Williams said.

“The Provost’s office and many of the colleges are sponsoring SHSU’s luncheon so that all funds we raise will go toward the eradication of polio and will be eligible for the 2:1 match by the Gates Foundation,” Williams said. “The event would have little hope of success without SHSU’s sponsorship.”

Through these efforts Williams believes eradication is foreseeable, especially since children can be protected from the disease for life for as little as 60 cents worth of oral vaccine.

“This fundraiser comes at an important time in the fight to eradicate polio, which would be only the second human disease to be eradicated,” he said.

“We did lose some ground in the fight against polio in those countries where it is still endemic. Suspicion and cultural fears contributed to a slowdown of vaccinations—especially in Pakistan,” Williams said. “But Rotary International and the World Health Organization have worked to increase security and to allay fears so that the task of vaccinating the remaining children in those countries can be completed.

“Today, no one worries about contracting small pox, because this disease was eradicated through a similar vaccination campaign,” he continued. “We would like polio to go the way of small pox. But it will not unless we finish the job.”

For more information, or to donate online, visit

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