Sunday, February 6, 2011

Polio survivor, violinist Itzhak Perlman, joins Rotary campaign to end polio

From USA Today:

Polio -- one of the most feared childhood diseases of the 20th century for having left millions crippled -- has just about met its match.

Violinist Itzhak Perlman, who is also a polio survivor, has teamed up with Rotary International for "This Close." It is an aptly titled awareness campaign, says Perlman, as the world is "truly this close" to completely getting rid of the disease.

Indeed, since taking polio on in 1985, Rotary has helped to immunize 2 billion children in 122 countries, slashing polio rates by 99%. From a staggering 350,000 polio cases each year in the 1980s, there were only 1,000 new cases in 2010, according to Rotary's Carol Pandak, a manager in their PolioPlus division.

"This Close" is part of Rotary's End Polio Now initiative and its $200 Million Challenge, an effort to raise money to match $355 million in challenge grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Kindness: What is your Kindness Challenge goal -- or charity goal -- for 2011?

Itzhak Perlman: We are so close to eradicating polio for good. As far as I'm concerned, there is no excuse for a single case of polio anywhere. Unfortunately, for some countries like Nigeria, India and Pakistan, among others, this is not the case. This is a very important campaign.

Kindness: Why did you decide to take on this goal?

Perlman: The vaccines are available. Everything that's needed to end the disease is available. It all comes down to money and to having some sort of real effect politically. Thanks to the support of Rotary and other wonderful organizations, we're getting there.

As a polio survivor, I've experienced the same problems that many polio victims face. I walk with crutches, use a scooter at times and have dealt with all sorts of problems with access. With my rigorous travel schedule and tight airport security, it's not getting any easier…not just for someone with a disability. As a musician, I've been lucky to have a fairly good gift. Whatever effect I can have, I'm happy to be playing a part in this campaign and will continue to support it and put the word out.

Kindness: What things will you be doing to reach it?

Perlman: In addition to the awareness campaign, I and my good friend James DePreist, also a polio survivor, will perform with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on March 7 to raise additional awareness and funds for the effort. [Ticket information can be found on]

Kindness note: Rotary International's "This Close" campaign kicked off with national TV ads on Monday, featuring a lineup of influential leaders and celebrities including Perlman, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, actor Jackie Chan, primatologist and conservationist Dr. Jane Goodall, Grammy Award-winning singers Angelique Kidjo and Ziggy Marley, golfing great and polio survivor Jack Nicklaus, and peace advocate Queen Noor of Jordan. All have donated their time with each participant using a simple hand gesture to represent "This Close."