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July 8, 2009 > Rotary Club vows to stop Pediatric AIDS

Rotary Club vows to stop Pediatric AIDS

By Ritu Jha
Photos By Lena Zee

"For She's a Jolly Good Fellow" was sung by Rotarians as they bade farewell last week to Lena Zee, the President of the Fremont Rotary Club.

Zee's term as president ends June 30. She will be replaced by Bob Shaver. Zee, though retiring from the club's presidency, will still serve as the International Services Committee chair, heading Project SPAN (Stop Pediatric AIDS Now). Zee said she was unaware that a child can get AIDS (Acquired immune deficiency syndrome) through their mother, until she watched "The Blood of Yingzhou District," which won the 2007 Academy for best short-subject documentary film. The documentary talks about China's struggle in dealing with AIDS and how the disease can spread from a mother to her child.

"It was then I decided to work on project SPAN," said Zee.

Since 2007, the Rotary Club has been working in six counties in Yunnan, China and have tested 30,000 pregnant women, newly -weds couples, their family members as well as community health care workers, for HIV.

"Babies could be cured," said Zee. She added a child deserves to start a new life and the next generation should be healthy. Zee said it wasn't easy for health workers to ride in the mountainous rural villages of Yunnan, where they have to carry medical equipment on their backpacks and look for pregnant women and convince them to be tested.

For the villagers in Yunnan, a person with HIV carries a stigma. Zee, last year went on the site visit to Yunnan. She said people do not want to talk about sex. But minority village tribes are hungry for knowledge.

To make the villagers talk to the health workers, the members accepted the help from the Rotary Club of Shanghai, a host club in China and the Yunnan AIDS Initiative that functions under the auspices of Dr. Ho.

Zee said language was one of the biggest barriers in approaching the village tribes. Local health workers were trained and with their help the health workers provided mass education about AIDS to the villagers. The club distributed television sets and DVDs to counties and townships that had a great impact on the rural people. Rotary also organized 270 public education events and distributed six laptops to their trainees to maintain a data collection and exchange information with other health institutions.

Project SPAN has served the southwestern part of China, and with the help of community health workers and local government has succeeded in spreading the awareness and knowledge of using preventive measures.

"The disease could be prevented and treated through proper medication," said Zee.

Last year 118 village doctors and 33 township doctors received training, 12 of whom became local trainers themselves.

In April 2007, Project SPAN was launched by Rotarians Henry Yin, then president, and Zee, the International Service chair. The project has received financial support from various Rotary clubs such as: the Fremont Rotary Club, the Niles Rotary Club, Mission San Jose Rotary Club, Fremont Sunrise Rotary, the Rotary Club of Newark and Union City, Newark (F.U.N.) Rotary, Rotary Club of Warm Springs as well as Sunnyvale Rotary and also the Northbrook Rotary in Illinois.

"We are the lead club in the district," said Zee. She said the growing popularity of the project has helped raise funds from Rotary clubs around the world.

SPAN now has become a joint project. Initially it was estimated that the cost for the first three-year-project would be about $100,000 to battle the killer AIDS. The first year budget for SPAN I was $34,000 and the second year's budget for SPAN II was $38,000. The budget for SPAN III is $41,000.

"We are busy working to raise funds for SPAN IV," said Zee and added she would be going to the Milpitas Rotary on July 13.

Zee said she is thankful to Dr. David D. Ho, who has helped the club in taking the project in the right direction. Ho, is the founding Scientific Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center, in New York. He launched a project in 2005 targeting the acute rates of mother-to-child-transmissions (MTCT) of HIV. Ho and his partner researchers developed a strain of antiretroviral medication that promises to reduce the current MTCT rate of 33 percent, all the way down to two percent or less. Ho's project first started in Yunnan which was an area severely affected by HIV.

"We are not stopping in China," said Zee. If the funds keep coming, Rotarians will go to neighboring countries, wherever there is a need to stop pediatric AIDS.

"It's a worthwhile international project," said Zee. She will continue to chair Project SPAN, which according to Zee has already gained momentum and popularity in the Bay Area.

The Fremont Rotary club also works for the cause locally and gives charity to various organizations in the area If you are interested in supporting their worthwhile endeavors contact Lena Zee at (510) 651-0732.

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