Hero Fund Honors a Legacy of Caring

In 1998, a volunteer vaccinator lost his leg to a landmine during polio eradication activities in South Sudan. At the time, there were no procedures or means to support the victim’s medical care or rehabilitation, so Rotarian Bill Sergeant, famous for his dedication to eradicating polio worldwide as chair of Rotary International’s Polio Plus Committee, raised more than $2,000 from friends and fellow Rotarians. This incident highlighted the need for a mechanism to support volunteer healthcare workers operating in difficult circumstances around the world.

In June 2000, the CDC Foundation and major public health partners established the Polio Eradication Heroes Fund to recognize health workers and volunteers who were killed or seriously injured while participating in polio eradication activities. Bob Keegan, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) staff member who spent much of his career fighting polio globally, was the fund’s first donor and staunchest advocate, working closely with the CDC Foundation, CDC colleagues, Rotary International and partners to help establish the fund to provide a small token for the families who have lost so much.

“There is a very big human element to this that people don’t necessarily see,” said Marques Adams, CDC coordinator and program manager for the Bob Keegan Polio Eradication Heroes Fund. “Public health isn’t just about epidemiology; it’s about taking care of these people who volunteer to help vaccinate in places where there is the threat of true danger.”

The wife of the late Francisco Devoto receives the Polio Eradication Hero Award on his behalf, in Angola

Bob Keegan

The family of Mr. Wamokanga Botamba Patrick, who had been a Provincial Communication Officer in the Tshopo province of Democratic Republic of Congo, receives his award.

Polio eradication was just one of the many public health issues Keegan championed during his nearly 33 years of service with CDC. Before retiring in 2007, he served as CDC’s team lead on polio vaccination as deputy director of the Global Immunization Division. His leadership, energy and innovation played a pivotal role in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, a public-private partnership established to eliminate polio worldwide, and in global measles control and elimination initiatives. He was known as an outstanding mentor and technical consultant on program management and operational issues for CDC and the World Health Organization. Described by family, friends and colleagues as a humanitarian, world traveler, amateur musician, avid cyclist and a devoted family man, Keegan championed global sustainable development and health equity.

In a 2005 interview, Keegan summarized his passion for helping those working to eradicate polio globally.

“In my mind, this CDC Foundation fund is an extraordinary example of leveraging small amounts of funding to do a tremendous amount of good,” Keegan said. “When you see a child paralyzed with polio, and you realize that it’s totally preventable with existing vaccines, there’s a high level of motivation to get involved and make a difference.”

When Keegan passed away in 2012 after a 10-month battle with cancer, the fund was officially renamed the Bob Keegan Polio Eradication Heroes Fund. Through Keegan’s efforts and the generosity of many partners and supporters, the fund has made 244 awards totaling $360,000 to polio eradication heroes in 18 countries to date. In fiscal year 2022, there was a tragic increase in the number of injuries and fatalities. In addition to many other friends and supporters of the fund, and upon the recommendation of the International PolioPlus Committee, the Rotary Foundation of Rotary International stepped in with a generous gift to ensure that these awards could continue for years to come.

Keegan is survived by his loving wife of 33 years, Gloria J. Keegan, and his children, Marcus G. Keegan and Lauren A. Keegan.

 

Bob Keegan