Rotary clubs light up the world to end polio

From Italy's Trevi Fountain to the New York Stock Exchange, world landmarks will carry Rotary's End Polio Now pledge the week of Feb. 23

EVANSTON, Ill. U.S.A. -- What do Italy's Trevi Fountain, India's Charminar monument, and the New York Stock Exchange building have in common?

Each of these iconic landmarks will provide a dramatic backdrop for an equally dramatic message: End Polio Now. Those three words - representing Rotary's pledge to rid the world of this crippling childhood disease -- will be projected onto each structure during the week surrounding Feb. 23, the humanitarian service organization's 106th anniversary.

These monuments join the other iconic landmarks that have carried the pledge in recent years: the Sydney Opera House, London's Tower Bridge, the Roman Coliseum, Egypt's Pyramid of Khafre, Chicago's Wrigley Building, the Obelisk in Argentina, and the San Francisco Ferry Building.

"These global illuminations carry Rotary's pledge to end polio-saying to the world that we will fight this crippling disease to the end," says Carl-Wilhelm Stenhammar, chair of The Rotary Foundation, which oversees Rotary's polio eradication program. "It is our hope that people worldwide will see this visible pledge and join Rotary and its partners in this historic effort to rid the world of polio forever."

The End Polio Now illumination in India is particularly symbolic because 2011 is expected to be a key year in the fight to stop the disease in that country-one of only four nations where transmission of the wild poliovirus has never been stopped. Last year, India experienced a record low number of polio cases-reporting just 42. The other remaining polio-endemic countries are Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.

Along with India's Charminar in the city of Hyderabad, other sites scheduled for illumination the week of Feb. 23 include the KPT Government Building in Karachi, Pakistan; Kanazawa Castle, in Kanazawa, Japan; Taipei 101 Building, Taiwan; the Trevi Fountain in Rome, Italy; Fort San Cristobel in San Juan, Puerto Rico; the New York Stock Exchange Building in New York City, USA; and the Dutch Parliament Building in The Hague, The Netherlands.

In addition to the landmark light displays, the general public can join global celebrities online including Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Desmond Tutu, violinist Itzhak Perlman, Queen Noor of Jordan, actor Jackie Chan, Grammy Award-winning singers Angelique Kidjo and Ziggy Marley, golfer Jack Nicklaus, and environmentalist Dr. Jane Goodall as part of Rotary's "This Close" advertising campaign at thisclose.net.

The centerpiece of the campaign is the tagline: "We're this close to ending polio", and supporters of a polio-free world can add their portrait photograph to an online template featuring the signature "This Close" gesture with their thumb and forefinger.

Rotary clubs worldwide have planned a variety of awareness and fundraising activities surrounding Feb. 23, including:

 Ringing the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange with vaccine manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur on Feb. 23, and the opening bells at markets in Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, and Lisbon that same day.

 Soliciting donations beginning Feb. 23, at events across the United Kingdom. Schools are holding "Wear it Purple" days during which children will exchange their uniforms for purple clothing. The color symbolizes the purple dye that Rotary volunteers and health workers in developing countries use to mark the pinky finger of a child who has received the oral polio vaccine.

 Keeping with the purple theme, thousands of purple crocus flowers were planted in public spaces in October as part of the campaign in the United Kingdom, and should start to bloom by late February.

Polio eradication has been Rotary's top priority for more than two decades. The international humanitarian service organization is a spearheading partner in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, along with the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and UNICEF.

Rotary club members worldwide have contributed more than $1 billion and countless volunteer hours to the polio eradication effort, and have recently pledged to raise an additional US$200 million to match $355 million in challenge grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. All of the resulting $555 million will be spent in support of eradication activities.

Great progress has been made, and the incidence of polio infection has plunged from about 350,000 cases in 1988 to fewer than 1,000 cases in 2010. More than two billion children have been immunized in 122 countries, preventing five million cases of paralysis and 250,000 pediatric deaths.

To learn more about polio eradication, including how to participate in this historic effort, visit www.rotary.org/endpolio today.

For video and still photos go to: www.thenewsmarket.com/rotaryinternational or http://rotary.synapticdigital.com/

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Rotary is an organization of business and professional leaders who provide humanitarian service and help to build goodwill and peace in the world. There are 1.2 million Rotary members in 33,000 Rotary clubs in more than 200 countries and geographical areas. Rotary clubs have been serving communities worldwide for more than a century.

Contact: Petina Dixon, +1.847-866.3054, Petina.Dixon@rotary.org