Itzhak Perlman wields violin as a weapon against polio
NEW YORK (Dec. 4, 2009) — The global effort to eradicate polio received a major boost on Dec. 2, when violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman, a polio survivor himself, joined with the New York Philharmonic to perform The Concert to End Polio before an audience of 2,700 packing Avery Fisher Hall at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
The purpose of this historic performance was to help the humanitarian organization Rotary International in its effort to raise $200 million to match a $355-million challenge grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The resulting $555 million will fund critical immunization activities in developing countries where the crippling disease still threatens children.
Before the performance, Rotary General Secretary Ed Futa drew applause with his announcement that Rotary had just surpassed the halfway mark of the challenge, raising more than $100 million toward the $200 million goal.
All of the net proceeds from the concert will go toward Rotary’s fundraising effort. But just as important, say the organizers, is the heightened public awareness that results when an artist of Perlman’s stature lends his support.
“The impact of Mr. Perlman’s presence on our effort to educate the public that polio continues to infect children in the developing world cannot be measured,” says Glenn Estess, chair of The Rotary Foundation, which manages Rotary’s polio eradication program.
Rotary expects to see more traffic on rotary.org/endpolio, a site where visitors can learn more about the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, including how they can contribute. Supporters also can text “polio” to 90999 on their cell phones to make a $5 donation.
Before a vaccine was developed, Perlman contracted polio at age four in Israel and overcame serious physical challenges to become one of the world’s most celebrated musicians.
“There is absolutely no excuse for anyone to get polio,” says Perlman, who after the concert accepted a special Rotary award to add to his collection of 15 Grammy Awards.
Social media sites soon were abuzz with comments from audience members. “I am not sure there was a dry eye in the performance hall,” posted Paula Greenberg, a Rotary club member from Danbury, Conn., referring to the ovation Perlman received as he entered the stage, as usual, on crutches, just minutes after the audience had watched a video depicting polio-disabled children in India. “When he played, I felt taken to another place, a very special spot.”
Another Rotary member present, Anne Lee Hussey, of Portland, Maine, is also a polio survivor. She agrees that she and fellow survivors can motivate others with their personal stories. “It will be such a relief when polio is gone,” says Hussey, who has participated in many immunization drives in developing countries.
Rotary International, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in 1988. Worldwide, the number of polio cases has been slashed by more than 99 percent, preventing five million cases of childhood paralysis and 250,000 deaths. However, the final one percent of cases is the most difficult and expensive to prevent, which is why the current fundraising effort is crucial.
Rotary – an organization of business and professional leaders united worldwide in humanitarian service - has more than 1.2 million members in more than 33,000 clubs in over 200 countries and geographic regions. For more information, visit www.rotary.org
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