Rotary is Putting a Face on Polio

It’s a disease that once terrified parents across the country.

It’s a disease that once terrified parents across the country. And while polio has now been eradicated throughout North America, the Rotary Club won’t be satisfied until the whole world is free from the affliction once known as infantile paralysis.

The Rotary Club of Ladysmith is doing its part in the fight with a fundraiser Oct. 29 at the Cottonwood Golf and Country Club.

“We’re calling it Putting a Face on Polio. It’s to raise awareness of the issues of polio still in the world,” Gerry Beltgens, incoming president of the Ladysmith Rotary, as well as local foundation chair.

Since 1985, Rotary has made eradicating polio its top priority with over 34,000 clubs in more than 200 countries. Rotary has committed $1.2 billion to the effort over the years, and while the number of polio cases has declined from 350,000 in 1988 to just 223 today, the work is not yet complete.

“It’s a pretty big attempt at wiping the whole thing out,” said Beltgens. “I think the thing that people don’t realize is that all it would really take is for some people who are infected to come back over here and there’s so many people who aren’t getting immunization these days that there’s still that possibility that it could spread here again.”

Polio today is mainly confined to Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan, areas that have proven unreceptive to immunization campaigns.

The Oct. 29 event will include music, appetizers and a glass of wine for your $15 ticket.

“The entrance fee is going to cover the cost of running the event, and any donations made during the event go straight to the Rotary Foundation,” said Beltgens. “I believe it’s 95 per cent of all donations that go through Rotary actually go to the eradication of polio and not administration, so we’ve got one of the highest ratings of effectiveness.”

And those donations will actually do three times the good, as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is offering to provide another $2 for every $1 raised. Bill Gates called Rotary “the heart and soul of polio eradication.”

The Ladysmith event will feature a presentation by Jean Toone, a polio survivor and the president of the Post-Polio Awareness and Support Society. Along with soliciting donations, the night will also feature a live auction.

“We’ve got some really interesting items. There’s going to be donations from people within the community that have special skills,” said Beltgens.

He said anyone with carpentry projects around the house might be interested in making a bid for the services of  local woodworker Bill Hutchinson, who has offered to donate up to 40 hours of his time to work on a project.

Doors to the event will open at 7 p.m., and tickets can be purchased through any Rotary member, at www.ladysmithro or by calling 250-245-2024. Seating is limited, so those interested are advised to purchase tickets early.

Beltgens said the event is open to the general public and promises to not only be an entertaining evening, but a chance to make a difference in people’s lives on the other side of the world.

“It’s roughly 60 cents per immunization, so we can do an awful lot of good for a pretty reasonable outlay,” he said.