(London - UK: 21 November, 2007)
Polio survivor returns to birthplace to help eradicate the disease that changed his life
Thirty-year-old polio-survivor Gautam Lewis of London will travel to his birthplace in India to help in the effort to immunize some 75 million children under the age of five against polio – a crippling and potentially fatal disease that is still endemic in Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan.
After learning about the commitment of Rotary International - a nonprofit humanitarian service organization that has made polio eradication its top priority - Lewis was inspired to help Rotary's campaign to eradicate the disease in India and worldwide.
“Paired with a powerful vaccine and medical science, Rotary’s steadfast commitment is the key to eradicating polio,” said Lewis. “Through my personal experience, I have a deep understanding of how important voluntary organizations are in the world today. As a result of Rotary’s efforts, many will go on to live happy and productive lives having been spared the cruel, life-long consequences of polio.”
Still dependent on crutches from his battle with polio, Lewis is in a strong position to sympathize and fight the disease. Lewis hopes to inspire those who have been battling polio for years by highlighting with dignity achievements that are possible in the face of adversity. “It is vital that everyone remain committed to ending this disease. I hope to show, through my example, that anything is possible – the sky is the limit.”
Born in Kolkata in 1977, Lewis was abandoned by his mother at the age of eighteen months old after he contracted polio. Lewis was taken to Mother Theresa’s Missionaries of Charity where he stayed for three years before having another two years of operations at the Rehabilitation Centre for Children (RCFC). There he met Dr. Patricia Lewis, a dual national (UK/Ireland) nuclear physicist, who was working at RCFC for a year. Lewis became Patricia’s ward and was taken to Auckland, New Zealand in 1985 where he was adopted. At the age of nine, mother and son arrived in London.
Lewis has worked in the music industry and has managed many high profile bands including The Libertines, The Hives, D4 and The Kills. Fulfilling his childhood dream, Lewis also qualified as a pilot in September 2007. A long standing fascination for aircraft has always been prevalent, but Lewis never thought that someone with his condition would be able to take part in the world of aviation.
While in India, Lewis will join Rotary members during the 25 November mass immunization campaign to administer the drops of oral polio vaccine and go house-to-house to ensure that no child was missed.
New methods and more effective oral polio vaccines have led to steady progress in India this year. Yet to date, India holds the highest number of polio cases of any single country this year, having reporting 367 cases so far in 2007.
Whether knocking on doors during house-to-house campaigns or staffing immunization posts, India’s nearly 90,000 Rotary members will be out in force during the multiple campaigns planned for this year.
Rotary has contributed US$74.3 million to fight polio in India, and more than US$633 million toward eradicating polio worldwide. Besides raising and contributing funds, over one million men and women of Rotary have volunteered their time and personal resources to help immunize more than 2 billion children in 122 countries during national immunization campaigns.
A highly infectious disease that can cause paralysis and sometimes death, polio still strikes children in parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. To date, the number of polio cases has been reduced from 350,000 children annually in the mid 1980s to approximately 2,000 cases all last year.
Rotary International is the world’s first and one of the largest non-profit humanitarian service organizations. It is comprised of 1.2 million business and professional leaders in nearly 170 countries. Rotary members initiate community projects that address many of today’s most critical issues such as violence, AIDS, hunger, the environment and health care.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is spearheaded by WHO, Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
For further information, visit www.polioeradication.org