Sea of red set to flood Auckland trains and ferries in anti-polio campaign

October 22, 2020

The Polio All Transit event in 2019.

By Elijah Fa'afiu - elijah.fa'

A sea of red is set to engulf Auckland commuters tomorrow as hundreds of campaigners take to trains and ferries in a campaign to raise awareness about ending polio.

Rotary Club volunteers will ride around Auckland public transport wearing red shirts from 8am to 6pm as part of the Polio All Transit campaign. 

Organiser Ron Seeto says polio affects everyone.

“It’s indiscriminate, it affects all communities, it doesn’t matter where you come from.”

Polio is a potentially fatal disease that invades the nervous system and can cause total paralysis in hours. It affects people of any age, but mainly targets children under five.

Auckland Rotary Club members speaking with David Seymour (left) and Simon Bridges (second from left) at the 2019 Polio All Transit event. Photo/The Rotary Club of Papakura

With each donation, Seeto says the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will multiply it by two and put in that amount towards the cause.

“For every dollar raised to end polio, what we call the Gates multiplier, they multiply it by two, so every dollar becomes three dollars.

Last year’s Polio All Transit event raising $76,000 meant that a total of $228,000 went towards ending polio.

The End Polio group will be stationed in one carriage and Seeto says they will be hard to miss.

Travelling all over Auckland in last year's Polio All Transit campaign was a new experience for Seeto.

“I’ve lived in Auckland for a number of years now and I’ve never done 40 stations. If you go out to Swanson, it’s one of the most picturesque stations to go to and you get a great morning tea there.

“If you go out to Pukekohe, there’s a great stop there where you’ve got the best sausage rolls and meat pies.

“Then you go on the train from Glen Innes over the Orakei Basin, that’s one of the most beautiful train rides you can have anywhere in the world. You’re crossing the Basin, you’ve seen the Harbour. If you haven’t had the chance to ride the train, then that’s probably a good opportunity to take some of the day out and join the end of polio crew.”

Seeto, who was born in Fiji, encourages Pacific communities to take part in the event.

“I think with Covid-19, it’s a perfect storm with people understanding more about viruses and it’s a good thing to roll out. 

"We’re hoping to get more participation from the Pacific Island community on the train rides.”

The Auckland Rotary district extends out to the Pacific and includes countries such as Fiji, Samoa, Kiribati and the Cook Islands.

The former District Governor hopes to expand the End Polio campaign to the Pacific region, but understands there will be limitations.

“We’re hoping that they can either do canoes or they could walk for polio or get on their buses, so we’re looking at doing that. If not this year, then certainly for next year. In the Pacific, the rotary clubs are very aware of it.”

A number of New Zealand public figures are expected to take part, as they did in last year’s event.

“David Seymour's mother had polio and he was instrumental in getting a number of Parliamentarians alongside riding the trains with us. Among them was Simon Bridges and Simeon Brown,” says Ron Seeto.

“This year, we’ve actually got the mayor coming to see off the first riders at about 8am at Britomart Station.

“Apart from politicians, we’ve got Miss New Zealand, Miss International, sports celebrities.”

Although polio can be prevented by vaccines, it is not curable.

There are only two countries in the world that have not been declared polio-free - Afghanistan and Pakistan. 

Nigeria was found to be clear of the wild virus just a couple of months ago, but Seeto says there is still a goal to eradicate the disease worldwide.

“When we do eradicate it, it will be the second time in all history of humankind that we have managed to eradicate a disease. The last time was smallpox.

“Even though there’s only two countries in the world that’s still got the wild polio virus, it’s only a plane ride away. It can easily get back into the country if we’re not vigilant.”

The Polio All Transit campaign takes place a day ahead of World Polio Day on Saturday. ​

For more information on the Polio All Transit event, click here​.