Survivors mark 60 years since Belfast polio outbreak

Survivors mark 60 years since Belfast polio outbreak

With the number of polio cases around the world down into the teens for 2017, it is easy to forget that the disease once ravaged the United Kingdom.

The year 1957 saw the largest outbreak of polio ever in Northern Ireland, with 297 people contracting the disease in Belfast during the year.

Rotary in Ireland, along with the One Last Push campaign are today co-hosting event at Belfast Castle to mark the 60th anniversary of the outbreak, and bring together individuals who had their lives impacted by the epidemic.

One of those individuals was Eddie McCrory, whose very first memory was contracting the disease in the summer of 1957 as a five-year-old boy.

After initially being bed-ridden with suspected flu, Eddie was transferred to Belvoir Park Hospital three days later.

Eddie recalled: “My daddy promised I would only be in the hospital for a night. In fact, I was kept in the isolation ward for a further six weeks – and then transferred to Greenisland Orthopaedic Hospital where I stayed for nearly a year.”

Growing up, Eddie, pictured centre, received regular hospital treatment and wore callipers on his legs until the age of 10.

“At that point, the doctors thought I was going to be fine and grow up to walk relatively well,” he says. “But when I was 13, I had an adolescent growth spurt and it turned out that polio’s lasting impact on me would be a sclerosis – a curvature of the spine.”

The number of worldwide polio cases is at its lowest ever levels, with only 16 cases reported so far in 2017, and just three countries remaining endemic Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.

Polio is considered a thing of the past in the UK, but there are 120,000 people currently living with the after-effects of the disease in this country.

Together we want to strengthen our resolve that, today, no child should ever have to endure polio.”

Rosemary Simpson, President of Belfast Rotary Club, pictured above right, thinks it’s important that we remember the past, as well as looking to the future.

“We hope the event will bring together those living with the long-term effects of the disease, as well as remembering the heroic efforts of all who were affected or connected with the epidemic. Together we want to strengthen our resolve that, today, no child should ever have to endure polio.”

Rotary first pledged to end polio more than 30 years ago, and since then Rotary’s fundraising and advocacy, along with Global Polio Eradication Initiative partners, has seen 2.5 billion children be vaccinated against the disease.

“The UK has long been a leader in polio eradication and the recent commitment of UK Aid to immunise up to 45 million children against the disease each year until 2020 will save more than 65,000 children from paralysis every year.” Rosemary continued.

“This in turn will help over 15,000 polio workers reach every last child with life-saving vaccines and other health interventions; and help save almost £2 billion globally by 2035, as health care systems are freed up from treating polio victims.”

“Polio is just as cruel now as it was then. The difference is, today we can do more than just prevent it. We can end it. Rotary and The One Last Push campaign is driving awareness to ensure another generation of children never have to suffer from polio and live with the consequences of this preventable disease.”

To find out more about Rotary’s campaign to eradicate polio, and to donate, visit the End Polio Now website.