Rotary Flame lit in Evanston to celebrate near-eradication of polio

Rotary International president Gary Huang lights the Rotary Flame outside One Rotary Center on Tuesday as other RI leaders look on. The Flame signifies RI’s recent victory in their 30-year-long fight to eradicate polio worldwide with the declaration of India as a polio-free zone.

Annabel Edwards/Daily Senior Staffer

Rotary International president Gary Huang lights the Rotary Flame outside One Rotary Center on Tuesday as other RI leaders look on. The Flame signifies RI’s recent victory in their 30-year-long fight to eradicate polio worldwide with the declaration of India as a polio-free zone.

Marissa Page, Assistant City Editor

The Rotary International world headquarters in Evanston hosted a ceremonial lighting of the “Rotary Flame” Tuesday afternoon to celebrate the group’s role in the near-eradication of polio.

RI began PolioPlus, their campaign to eradicate polio, in 1985. Since then, the Rotary Club’s branches have gone on thousands of vaccination trips, reducing the number of new polio cases worldwide from 350,000 a year to just 21 so far in 2015, according to P.T. Prabhakar, director of the Madras Rotary Club.

“The fruits of our labor since that day are clear,” said John Kenny, chair of RI’s board of trustees. “Ninety-nine percent of the world’s population live in regions certified polio-free. The goal of eradication is closer than ever.”

The Rotary Flame project began December 13 at the Rotary Club of Madras in Chennai, India, in recognition of the eradication of polio in the country. More than 100 spectators, RI club members and leaders from around the world gathered in Evanston for the ceremony, which took place outside the headquarters, located at the One Rotary Center, 1560 Sherman Ave., in front of the PolioPlus statue.

“This is very meaningful because we’ve been fighting polio for almost 30 years,” said Gary Huang, RI president. “Now we’re to the end of this goal, and we’re going to achieve this goal on schedule in 2018.”

By the end of the Rotary Flame’s journey, slated for the RI Convention in Sao Paolo, Brazil on June 6, it will have traveled to 12 locations, including Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, the three countries still affected by polio.

“This flame is both a celebration and a clarion call,” said S.N. Srikanth, president of the Rotary Club of Madras. “It is intended to celebrate the fact that India became polio-free officially last year, and yet we know that there are several fragile countries where the dreaded disease has yet to be stamped out.”

John Hewko, general secretary of Rotary International and the Rotary Foundation based in Evanston, told The Daily that Evanston’s two Rotary clubs focus not only on worldwide humanitarian efforts, but also on bettering the local community.

“One of the beauties of being a Rotarian is that you can participate in very locally-based, important projects but also participate in global initiatives like the eradication of polio,” Hewko said. “The two clubs here in Evanston have been very active throughout the years in fundraising for polio and also Rotarians from the two clubs have traveled to India and the other countries to participate as vaccinators in the campaign.”

This story was updated April 15 at 1:43 a.m. with a photo by Annabel Edwards.

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