National Press Club

Rotary President Describes Polio Fight

April 6, 2009 | By Peter Hickman

The president of Rotary International told a March 30 Newsmaker that despite the current "economic climate," his worldwide organization has raised $75 million -- one-third of its $200 million goal -- for global polio eradication. RI has 1.2 million members in 33,000 clubs in more than 200 countries.

Dong Kurn Lee, chairman of the Bubang manufacturing companies of South Korea and a former trustee of the Bank of Seoul, said the $200 million will match a $355 million challenge grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for a total of $555 million to be used for eliminating the crippling disease which still infects children.

"We are on the brink of success," Lee said. He noted that polio cases have declined 99% over the past 20 years, and are now endemic in only four countries -- Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan.

He hailed as RI's "main partners in the fight against polio the World Health Organization, Center for Disease Control and the United Nations Children's Fund. He also said RI has received assistance in its polio eradication efforts from governments around the world, most recently Germany and the United Kingdom. The largest contributor, he noted, has been the U.S., which has given more than $1.5 billion.

Lee was accompanied at the Newsmaker by polio research specialist Dr. John Sever and film producer Tom Grant, who was nominated for an Oscar for his documentary "The Final Inch" about polio eradication in India, which debuted April 1 on HBO.