One reason Dr. Bryson Bateman became a Rotarian was because of the club's efforts to eradicate polio.

Many may think polio is not a current issue, but that is not the case, the retired physician says.

Which is why events like the "Walk to Wipe Out Polio," planned for Saturday, April 14, are so important.

"Last year there were only 22 cases of wild polio found in the world," he explained. "There's actually two problems -- one is the wild virus and then a few cases that come from the vaccine that's given.

"So far this year there have been five cases, and they have all been in Afghanistan."

Bateman is district polio chair for the Rotary District 7720 in eastern North Carolina.

The move to eliminate polio is a billion-dollar-plus effort and the biggest health initiative in the world, he said. Global Polio Eradication Initiative, or GPEI, began in the late 1980s when there were probably 150,000 cases annually.

That initiative is under the World Health Organization, or WHO, with other partnerships -- including Rotary International, Centers for Disease Control, UNICEF and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation -- working to reduce the number of polio cases.

"WHO says we have saved 17.4 million children in the world, to keep from contracting polio and over 10 percent of those would have died from it," he said. "We're not in the short rows any more -- we're in the last row of eradication."

Rotary Club International is working to raise $50 million for the cause, he said, with the Gates Foundation slated to match that.

Every Rotary Club in turn hopes to generate about $1,500 through efforts such as the upcoming walk.

There are about 41 clubs in the local district. Sponsors of the April 14 walk are the Goldsboro Rotary and Three Eagles, as well as clubs in Fremont, Mount Olive and Snow Hill.

It will be held rain or shine on that Saturday, at Wayne Community College. Registration starts at 9:30 a.m., and the walk kicks off at 10 a.m.

There is no charge to participate but donations are welcome, and can be brought that day or given to any Rotary Club member.

Groups and individuals are invited to take part in the 5K walk this year, and the public is encouraged to support the important cause, Bateman said.

"The problem is people in the western world think polio is gone. But it's not," he said. "It's been a major cause in Rotary since the '80s, and we're so close to the end.

"What we're looking for is viral extinction."

For more information on the walk, call 919-920-9972.