Bill Gates Jr., speaking for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on Wednesday, Jan. 21, awarded a $255 million grant to Rotary International in the global effort to eradicate polio, bringing the total committed by the Gates Foundation and Rotarians to $555 million. Rotary International has already raised $72 million to match an initial $100 million grant from Gates and plans to raise another $100 million to match this second grant.
Members of the two Rotary clubs in Lakewood – Rotary Club of Lakewood and Clover Park Rotary Club ‚Äì have contributed thousands of dollars personally to the effort and a number of members have traveled to India and Ethiopia and other remote areas to personally assist in providing the life-saving drops of vaccine.
Since 1985 Rotary International Clubs have been raising funds and providing volunteers to immunize the world‚Äôs children against polio. To date, polio has been eradicated from all but a handful of countries.
Shortly after meeting with incoming Rotary district governors from the four countries where the wild poliovirus is endemic — Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan — Bill Gates announced the new grant. The announcement came during the annual Rotary meeting in California for its 2009-10 group of district leaders.
‚ÄúRotarians, government leaders, and health professionals have made a phenomenal commitment to get us to a point at which polio afflicts only a small number of the world‚Äôs children,‚Äù Gates said. ‚ÄúHowever, complete elimination of the poliovirus is difficult and will continue to be difficult for a number of years. Rotary in particular has inspired my own personal commitment to get deeply involved in achieving eradication.‚Äù
“We are going to end polio now,” affirmed Dr. Robert S. Scott, chair of RI’s International PolioPlus Committee.
Lakewood Rotary Club President Joel Feldman and Lakewood Rotary Foundation Chair Jim Schultz both expressed their joy at the financial contribution and indicated they will be working closely with club members to raise additional funds and get members personally involved.
Likewise, Dr. Don Paradise, president of the Clover Park Club, and Georgene Mellom, chairman of the club‚Äôs foundation committee, said their members are also strong participants in the polio eradication project. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôre sure our members will dig deep into their pockets in this effort,‚Äù the president added.
The two Gates Foundation challenge grants now total $355 million. Rotary International‚Äôs matching effort in response is called Rotary‚Äôs US$200 Million Challenge, which must be completed by June 30, 2012.
The $255 million grant is one of the largest challenge grants ever given by the Gates Foundation and the largest received by Rotary in its 104-year history. Rotary will spend the grant in direct support of immunization activities carried out by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.
Polio eradication has been Rotary‚Äôs top priority since 1985, with more than $1.2 billion contributed to the effort. Gates praised Rotary for providing the volunteers, advocates, and donors who have helped bring about a 99 percent decline in the number of polio cases. ‚ÄúThe world would not be where it is without Rotary, and it won‚Äôt get where it needs to go without Rotary,‚Äù he said.
In addition to the Gates grant and the Rotary matching pledge, the governments of the United Kingdom and Germany announced they have respectively committed $150 million and $130 million (US) to eradicate polio.
Rotary International counts approximately 1.2 million men and woman as members. The Lakewood Club numbers 125 members and the Clover Park club‚Äôs membership stands at about 55. In addition to raising funds for polio eradication, the two local clubs have been community leaders supporting schools, playgrounds, Boys & Girls Clubs and much more. The Lakewood club meets at Tacoma Country & Golf Club at noon on Fridays and the Clover Park club meets at noon on Wednesdays at Oakbrook Country Club.