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CDC Inducted into Polio Hall of Fame

Published: January 23, 2009

Anne Schuchat, Yinka Kerr and Margaret Hercules
Anne Schuchat, MD, (RADM, USPHS), assistant surgeon general; Yinka Kerr, and Margaret Hercules are all smiles after a ceremony inducting CDC into the Polio Hall of Fame.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now part of the Polio Hall of Fame. The agency was recently honored for its work at a ceremony in Warm Springs, Ga., home of former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Roosevelt's grandson was among the speakers on hand to celebrate the near eradication of polio and the hard work of CDC and other organizations fighting this tenacious disease.

"It was truly meaningful to be a part of the festivities and to feel the strong connection with history and hope," said Anne Schuchat, MD, (RADM, U.S. Public Health Service), assistant surgeon general, and director, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease (NCIRD).

Polio One of Most Dreaded Childhood Diseases of the 20th Century

It's hard to imagine now, but polio was one of the most dreaded childhood diseases of the 20th century. Since polio vaccines have become available, the disease has disappeared from most parts of the world. It lingers in only four countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Nigeria. There parents still fear an illness that can leave their children unable to walk or unable to breathe, a disease that once crippled thousands of people, including many young children, every year.

Since 1988, when CDC joined forces with the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and Rotary International, the number of cases around the world has dropped dramatically. And the work continues, said Schuchat. "Our commitment to polio eradication is about people and places, connecting and hope. Last year, laboratories in 90 countries tested 156,000 samples for polio."

Yinka Kerr: "Remarkable Dedication Motivates Polio Work"

Other CDC staff were on hand for the event, which recognized a successful 20-year partnership of the four organizations, each one inducted into the Polio Hall of Fame.

Public health advisor Yinka Kerr, team lead of Stop Transmission of Polio (STOP), started working in CDC's polio program in 2000. She spent five years in Zimbabwe, and had a STOP assignment in Nepal. "There was just such a sense of history, of family," said Kerr. "The presentations recognized the remarkable dedication that motivates polio work. We all work so hard at STOP, all of the field staff and it was just so touching to receive this recognition."

Margaret Hercules: "It Hit Home How Important Our Work Is"

Margaret Hercules, another public health advisor with NCIRD's Global Immunization Division, has been involved in polio work in Ethiopia and Nigeria and said she still gets chill bumps thinking about that afternoon and the Polio Hall of Fame.

"I remember in Ethiopia, not having a place to bathe for weeks. I remember sleeping on the floor. It really hit me at the ceremony–all that was worth it. It hit home how important our work is."

"What We Are Doing Matters So Much"

"The work toward polio eradication is so impactful," said Schuchat, who has been at CDC for 20 year. "I'm so proud of our staff, so proud to be connected to this big family, to this legacy, to this history. It was especially moving to hear Congressman Ike Skelton speak. He was a patient at Warm Springs when he was a teenager and he talked to the young people on hand about that experience. He told them when he got polio he thought there was nothing ahead for him, and how that all changed at Warm Springs, that he received medical care and therapy, but mostly he was inspired."

Polio awards
The awards mark decades of work in the fight against polio.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the United States, began a hospital for polio patients there in 1927, after going there to seek treatment for his own polio. Today the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation is an internationally recognized facility, providing service for people with many different kinds of disabilities.

The Polio Hall of Fame includes sculptured busts of 15 scientists and two others who were instrumental in polio research and treatment. Eleanor Roosevelt unveiled the monument in 1958. Fifty years later, a plaque recognizing CDC is part of the display.

The Smithsonian National Museum of American History has an exhibit on loan to the facility. "Whatever Happened to Polio?" showcases Warm Springs as the place where polio rehabilitation and philanthropy began some eighty years ago. It details the introduction of a successful polio vaccine in 1955 as one of the most significant events of the 20th century. And it explores the impact of polio work. The last case of wild polio in the US occurred in 1979. But the disease, which is highly contagious and easily spread, lives on in some parts of the world.

And so the work continues, at CDC and through its partner organizations. "CDC is trying to help the rest of the world get to where we are in the US," said Schuchat. "Warm Springs spreads the message that every individual has potential. They are working to help restore hope and capacity to people to lead independent lives.

"Sometimes we get so busy that we don't think about the meaning of our work," she added. "But what we are doing matters so much. This kind of event makes you realize that. Look at what President Roosevelt overcame. Look at what scientists and doctors and field staff are doing to combat this disease. STOP teams volunteer in some of the most challenging places in the world, trying to make things better, making a difference every day. We're down to a very few cases in difficult places. It takes so many people to do great things. And we are all part of this together." The U.S. Government's Official Web PortalDepartment of Health and Human Services
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