New Orleans, La. – Gates told thousands of Rotary members at the Convention Center that the fight to eradicate polio worldwide is 99 percent complete.
"This last one percent will be the longest, hardest one percent. It will require more work and commitment than ever before."
Rotary clubs around the world have been struggling to wipe out polio through vaccinations since 1985. Gates is now spearheading the effort through the Bill and Melinda Gats Foundation, calling it his top priority.
"If we fail, the disease will not stay at its current low level. It will spread back into countries where it's been eliminated and it will kill and paralyze hundreds of thousands of children who used to be safe."
In the audience was Rotary member Huey Beverly of Franklinton, Louisiana. He knows the brutality of polio. He contracted the virus in 1946 when he was six years old, and spent six months in an iron lung at Charity Hospital. It took his left arm and weakened his legs, leaving him in a wheel chair. He says he joined the Rotary Club in 1970 and is active in the anti-polio campaign.
"I was so proud that Rotary has done this because the problems I had throughout my life with making friends, you know, was hard because of my arm. When I was real young kids used to make fun of me and everything, but I was really tickled to death when the Rotary took this on."
Beverly says the program could completely wipe out polio within five years. Gates says he'll be traveling to Africa in a few months to check on eradication campaigns.
For WWNO, I'm Eileen Fleming.