From an Egyptian pyramid to a high-rise in Evanston, buildings around the world are being lit up this week with signs promoting Rotary International’s campaign to end polio.

Rotary, headquartered in Evanston since 1954, is marking its 105th anniversary by stepping up its campaign against the crippling childhood disease in response to a major challenge grant.

The “End Polio” message is lighting up the west side of the Rotary Headquarters building at 1560 Sherman Ave.

Rotary has two clubs in Evanston and more than 33,000 around the world.

“By lighting these historic landmarks with Rotary’s pledge to end polio, Rotary is saying to the world that we will fight this disease to the end,” says Glenn E. Estess, Sr., chair of The Rotary Foundation, which oversees Rotary’s polio eradication program. “People around the world will see these words and join Rotary and its partners in the historic effort to eradicate polio from the face of the earth.”

Other sites scheduled for illumination this week include the Taipei Arena, Taiwan; the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain; the Old Port Captain’s Office on the Victoria and Albert Waterfront in Cape Town, South Africa, with world-famous Table Mountain as the backdrop; the Obelisk of Buenos Aires, Argentina; the Lake Marathon Dam overlooking the historic Marathon Memorial Battlefield in Greece; and the Royal Palace of Caserta in Italy.

Polio eradication has been Rotary’s top priority for more than two decades. 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.

Rotary recently pledged to raise $200 million to match $355 million in challenge grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. All of the resulting funds will be spent in support of eradication activities.

Great progress has been made, and the incidence of polio infection has plunged from about 350,000 cases in 1988 to fewer than 2,000 in 2009. More than two billion children have been immunized in 122 countries, preventing five million cases of paralysis and 250,000 pediatric deaths.

More information is available online.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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