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Speaker lauds Rotarys polio effort
Partnership wants disease eradicated by 2012
Leo Weakland, deputy chief of the disease eradication and elimination branch for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, speaks to the Gainesville Rotary Club Monday at the First Baptist Church in Gainesville. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Leo Weakland has traveled the world on a mission to eradicate polio.

On Monday, he shared with the Gainesville Rotary Club just how much the members have been a part of that process.

"I really want to make it clear to you the impact that you do have in your efforts," said the deputy chief of the disease eradication and elimination branch for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. "I've seen it in the most desolate, far-reaching slum village where a child is getting a polio vaccine and the Rotary symbol is there. It's prominent."

For more than 30 years, Rotary International says, it has put its efforts behind polio eradication and raised more than $1.2 billion.

The campaign is planted in the efforts of local chapters, and the Gainesville Rotary Club is no exception. At Monday's club meeting, president Rob Fowler asked the group a trivia question and those who answered wrong were asked to donate $2 to the polio effort. If they got the answer right, he would make the donation.

"It's a fun way to raise a few additional dollars," said Rotary member Doug Carter.

"In a project like this with hundreds of millions of dollars donated, every little bit counts."

Weakland told the group those donations support every part of the polio eradication process, from paying for ice packs to immunizations.

The money supports the Global Polio Eradication Initiative — a partnership between the World Health Organization, Rotary International, the CDC and the United Nations — in its goal of stopping the spread of polio by 2012. Although the campaign has faced many setbacks, such as the 2010 outbreak of polio in Tajikistan, the goal is very tangible, Weakland said. Nigeria, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan are some of the countries still of concern, he said.

Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said it was an eye-opening presentation.

"You raise money locally and you get literature," she said. "But seeing the global view of the impact it's made, frankly it was more than I thought."

Carter, who had a relative who suffered from polio, said it's relieving to know the organized effort has had an effect.

"It's great to get the opportunity sometimes to hear how a concerted effort from like-minded people nationwide and internationally, really how those contributions throughout the years have made such a significant difference," he said.

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