02-23-2009 06:34 PM CET - Media & Telecommunications

Oscar nominated films raise polio awareness

Press release from: Rotary International
A child receives a dose of polio vaccine during a mass immunization drive in India. (RI Images)
A child receives a dose of polio vaccine during a mass immunization drive in India. (RI Images)
The Final Inch and Slumdog Millionaire show the challenges facing the international polio eradication effort in India

EVANSTON, Ill. U.S.A. (Feb. 20, 2009) -- According to Rotary International, astute Oscar-watchers are getting a short course in polio eradication this year, thanks to two nominated films that together show the status of this paralyzing disease in India.

The Final Inch, nominated for an Academy Award in the best documentary short subject category, chronicles the challenges health organizations and governments face during the final stages of polio eradication. The film follows health workers as they immunize children in cities and remote villages of India, explaining how they overcome cultural misunderstandings that make some parents wary of the oral polio vaccine. Several scenes show Rotary club volunteers administering vaccine to children in Uttar Pradesh, India.

And while not addressing polio directly, best picture nominee Slumdog Millionaire graphically depicts the conditions that allow the poliovirus to circulate in India’s slums -- including poor sanitation, contaminated water, and overcrowding -- and the often desperate measures children take to survive in such a harsh environment. The movie helped inspire Sophia Hameed, a Miami high school senior of Indian descent, to join a group of 42 Rotary club volunteers who helped vaccinate thousands of Indian children against polio in early February. “There is a lot of reality there that you see in the movie,” says Hameed, who personally vaccinated about 100 children in the city of Chandigarh in northern India.

“The Final Inch shows us why it’s critical to win the hearts and minds of the parents whose children are at risk,” says Jonathan Majiyagbe, chair of the Rotary Foundation, which oversees Rotary’s polio eradication program. “And if you view Slumdog Millionaire with polio in mind, you will see how easily the virus can spread from child to child in an environment of extreme poverty. Taken together, these two films show us some of the cultural and physical barriers we must overcome in order to achieve a polio-free world.”

The Academy Awards will be announced Feb. 22.

Polio eradication has been Rotary’s top priority for more than 20 years. The international humanitarian service organization is a spearheading partner in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, along with the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and UNICEF.

Great progress has been made, and the incidence of polio infection has plunged by more than 99 percent, from about 350,000 cases in 1988 to fewer than 2,000 in 2008. More than two billion children have been immunized in 122 countries, preventing five million cases of paralysis and 250,000 pediatric deaths. Today, polio remains endemic to only four countries: India, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Afghanistan.

Rotary club members worldwide have contributed more than $800 million and countless volunteer hours to the effort. Rotary is currently raising $200 million to match $355 million in challenge grants received from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, all of it for polio eradication.

The money is needed to help close a funding gap that threatens to undermine two decades of progress. To learn more about polio eradication, including how to participate in this historic effort, visit www.rotary.org.

Rotary is an organization of business and professional leaders united worldwide to provide humanitarian service and help to build goodwill and peace in the world. It is comprised of 1.2 million members working in over 32,000 clubs in more than 200 countries and geographical areas. Rotary members initiate community projects that address many of today’s most critical issues, such as violence, AIDS, hunger, the environment and health care.

Rotary International
1560 Sherman Ave, Evanston, IL 60201, USA

Sandra Prüfer, Media Relations Europe/Africa
+ 1 847-866-3208, sandra.prufer@rotary.org

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