Film crew documenting Rotary work to eradicate polio

Published 5:28 am Friday, February 13, 2004

By By JOHN EBY / Niles Daily Star
DOWAGIAC -- Yellow-shirted Dowagiac Rotarians, particularly Dave and Barbara Groner, are being followed by a camera crew as they prepare to return to India for National Immunization Day (NID).
It's for a documentary for Rotary International celebrating its 2005 centennial by eradicating polio.
Producer Hope Kavoosi of San Francisco said during filming Wednesday night at Wood Fire restaurant, "We're going to talk about the history, from Paul Harris to today, we're going to show many of the programs from Rotary Clubs around the world and also we're going to talk about PolioPlus," from the Groners to a family in India who will be immunized. It will air on PBS in Chicago the last week of May. It will air on other PBS stations after that."
The four-person crew will be at today's Rotary luncheon at the Elks lodge and will be following the teams overseas.
India is where the last vestiges of this crippling disease are persistently hanging on.
These Rotary volunteers almost 20 years ago made elimination of this crippling disease its flagship humanitarian program.
While in India, they will participate in an intense vaccination program on Feb. 22 supported by the Indian government, Rotary International and its partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative: the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and UNICEF.
Volunteers administer drops of oral polio vaccine to children, deliver vaccine to health clinics and recruit fellow volunteers with the goal of immunizing every child under age 5 against polio.
The highly infectious disease can cause paralysis and sometimes death. As there is no cure, the best protection is prevention. For as little as 60 cents worth of vaccine, a child can be protected against this crippling disease for life.
After an international investment of $3 billion over 15 years, and the successful engagement of more than 200 countries and 20 million volunteers, polio could be the first disease of the 21st century to be wiped out.
India is one of three countries in Asia and only six in the world -- Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nigeria, Niger and Egypt -- where the polio virus continues to circulate.
According to global health officials, India presents the greatest opportunity for success or failure in stopping polio early in 2004.
Last year, India dramatically improved its immunization campaigns.
As a result, it reported its lowest-ever levels of polio in key hot spots.
In 2003, India reported 223 cases nationwide, down from 1,600 cases in 2002.
India, Nigeria (327 cases) and Pakistan (99 cases) contained the majority of the world's 715 cases of polio in 2003.
The Groners have been immunizing since 1998 in Delhi, when one out of every 35 children contracted polio. Judge Herbert Phillipson joined them for an exhausting day of squeezing drops on tongues from dawn to dusk.
Groner related how Phillipson bought toys from every child who approached their tour bus until he had filled shopping bags.
Groner also acknowledged individuals such as Brad Yazel, Jim Giles and Doug Fry, who keep his funeral home operating during the couple's prodigious amounts of time away.
Dave leaves Friday leading 90 business professionals divided into four teams, of which Dowagiac Rotary Club President Donald Woodhouse of Cassopolis will lead one.
Barbara and her team of 58 depart Saturday. Another group, the "Calcutta team," includes 28 more Rotarians.
In all, there are 176 paying $3,300 to attend from 34 states. Signal Travel has been charged with processing visas "jurisdictionally," based on where all those participants reside, from the East Coast to the West Coast and in Canada.
Visas had to be sent to six different places for processing, including consulates in New York, Washington, Chicago (85), Houston and San Francisco, from which the last eight passports were received Wednesday.
They must also coordinate the shipment of $25 million worth of vaccine and the fleet of semi trucks and containers that entails for ground transportation in India.
Great strides have been made since Rotary launched PolioPlus in 1985, when polio infected an estimated 1,000 children each day in 125 countries.
Much of this progress is due in part to Rotary's commitment.
Rotary has contributed $52.6 million to polio eradication in India.
Rotary is the largest private-sector contributor to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, with a $500 million contribution, plus countless volunteer hours during national immunization campaigns.
Groner led the Dowagiac Rotary Club in 1976. Richard Judd has chaired its foundation committee for all of that time. "We have the highest number of benefactors of any club in Michigan," Groner said.
In 1987, the club raffled a car to raise $15,000; this past year the club raised more than $24,000 for polio vaccine.
Rotary has been the centerpiece of the Groners' lives since their marriage seven years ago. He was District 6360 governor in 1997-98.
He served on the National Polio Eradication Fundraising Campaign Committee last year and has also served as regional foundation director for Zone 27. He is presently assistant chairman of the International PolioPlus Partners Committee. Dave has received Rotary's Service Above Self Award and The Rotary Foundation's Meritorious Service Award.
Dave and Barbara recently received the Rotary Foundation's International Service Award for a Polio-Free World.
Dave, 60, is a funeral director. Barbara, 59, is a retired educator who was an elementary school teacher, school librarian and administrator. They have a combined family of five children and eight grandchildren. Dave's daughter's Michelle's triplets were born while they were in India three years ago. Daughter Kristi gave birth to a granddaughter just prior to the India NID 2003 trip.
City Clerk Jim Snow, Rotary's historian, has custody of every bulletin written since 1920. He presented the Kavoosi sisters -- Michelle, an attorney, is the crew's writer and researcher -- with Dowagiac pins. Michelle still lives in Chicago, though they grew up in a town smaller than Dowagiac in Pennsylvania, between Pittsburgh and Erie.
Wilber Breseman of Marcellus, though not a Rotarian, began his travels with Groner floating down the Amazon River.