Countdown to History: World Polio Day
The Bob Keegan Polio Eradication Heroes Fund recognizes health workers and volunteers who have incurred serious injury or lost their lives as a direct consequence of their participation in polio eradication activities. The families of the workers, who have been the victims of automobile crashes, military conflicts and other life-threatening events, receive a certificate recognizing the victim’s heroic commitment to polio eradication and a cash tribute.
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.
The fund was established in June 2000 in partnership with major polio eradication partners. Robert "Bob" Keegan was the first contributor, donating the award money he received when we was recognized with CDC's distinguished William C. Watson Jr. Medal of Excellence. Keegan remained the fund's strongest advocate. When he retired from CDC in May 2007, he completed a bike ride across the U.S. from Florence, Oregon, to Yorktown, Virginia – 4,165 miles – to raise awareness and dollars for the polio eradication initiatives of the CDC Foundation and Rotary International. When Keegan passed away in January 2012, the CDC Foundation renamed this fund in his honor to express our gratitude for his extraordinary leadership and dedication.
"In my mind, this CDC Foundation fund is an extraordinary example of leveraging small amounts of funding to do a tremendous amount of good," said Keegan in a 2005 interview. "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."
Bob Keegan retired from CDC in 2007 after nearly 33 years of service. He spent the first 11 years of his career in STD control. In addition, Keegan helped to investigate Legionnaire's Disease in New York City’s Garment District in the late 1970s; worked to locate non-responders in Fulton County, GA, as part of Agent Orange studies in 1982; and helped to develop the first pre- and post-test counseling for HIV/AIDS.
From 1985–1990, Keegan coordinated CDC’s refugee health activities in Southeast Asia, helping to assure that refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos were immunized and treated for communicable diseases. In 1991, he joined the newly formed Polio Eradication Activity, which had a staff of six and an annual budget of $3 million. Since that time, the activity has grown to become CDC's Global Immunization Division (GID), with a staff of 110, and an annual budget of more than $150 million. GID has expanded to include measles mortality reduction and regional elimination, routine immunization systems strengthening, and new vaccine introduction.
Keegan’s leadership, energy and innovation played a pivotal role in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) and in accelerated global measles control and regional measles elimination initiatives. He was an outstanding mentor and technical consultant on program management and operational issues for CDC and WHO. In all his endeavors and accomplishments, Keegan demonstrated outstanding diplomacy, sensitivity and social and interpersonal skills as a CDC ambassador on global immunization to international organizations, governments and global health leaders. He was a true humanitarian who championed global sustainable development and health equity.
Keegan was a recipient of the William C. Watson Jr. Medal of Excellence and the Public Health Advisor of the Year Award from the Watsonian Society. He also received the U.S. Public Health Service Special Recognition Award (1995) for his significant achievements and service in global public health programs. He was also honored as the winner of the Philip Horne Award from CDC’s National Immunization Program (2003) and recipient of a special CDC Foundation 10th Anniversary Public Health Hero Recognition.
In the Fall of 1999, a group of CDC employees and retirees who understood the challenges of doing public health work in developing countries decided to create an endowment fund to address global health issues. The fund would provide a source of flexible funding to meet critical or emergency needs in the field that could not easily be met through usual government channels. Thanks to the vision and generosity of those CDC employees and matching support from the Marcus Foundation, the fund has grown to over $250,000 and more than $24,000 has been disbursed to fund program initiatives. The Fund helps CDC address polio, vaccine-preventable diseases and other priority global health issues.
In the words of Bob Keegan, former deputy director pf CDC's Global Immunization Division, "This endowment allows us to focus on the real issues in the field while rapidly resolving critical, frequently inexpensive operational problems that so often interrupt our work. When civil unrest in Somalia intensified during 2002, our staff requested that we provide bulletproof vests for several national health workers most at risk. The CDC Foundation approved funding immediately, allowing work to continue without interruption, and further enhancing CDC's reputation as an agency that does what it takes to get the job done."
”Vaccinators and supervisors had conducted numerous immunization campaigns and fatigue was a real risk,” says CDC public health advisor Julie Jenks. “So we decided to try to generate some excitement about the campaign in the community and among our vaccination teams.”
Two “outstanding” supervisors in each of Moradabad’s 22 planning areas received wrist watches provided by Rotary International, and a total of 66 outstanding vaccinators received sewing machines. The sewing machines were purchased through the CDC Foundation’s Endowment for Global Health Priorities.
“Local vaccinators and supervisors receive only a small per diem of about $1 per day,” says Jenks. “The incentives really energized them to vaccinate every child.”
In addition, families in which all children were immunized were entered into a “lucky drawing” to receive a sewing machine. The 132 winning families were recognized at a ceremony at the conclusion of the campaign. More than 500 people attended the ceremony which received significant local media coverage.
“This small expenditure made possible through the CDC Foundation made a big difference in the success of this campaign,” says Jenks. “We hope to learn from this pilot project and selectively use incentives in difficult areas.”