The Albert B. Sabin Digitization Project: October 24, World Polio Day

"World Understanding, World Peace and Polio" by Dr. Albert B. Sabin

October 24 is known as “World Polio Day,” in honor of Dr. Jonas Salk’s birthday. According to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, since World Polio Day 2011, the number of new cases of polio has declined by a significant amount. Along with the success of a decrease in polio cases, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative has noted, “Polio eradication partners around the world are marking the first World Polio Day since India was removed from the list of countries with active transmission of wild poliovirus.” Currently, only three countries – Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan – are considered endemic for polio.

I previously discussed the role of the oral polio vaccine and its role in helping to virtually eliminate polio around the world in last year’s blog called, “The Albert B. Sabin Digitization Project: World Polio Day.” Today, in honor of World Polio Day, I just wanted to touch on the speech that Dr. Sabin gave when he received the Rotary Award for World Understanding in 1985. In his speech, he discussed “peace” and “trust.” He said, “Peace is easy among friends – but how does one achieve friendship between enemies, and if not friendship, at least trust?”

Dr. Sabin went on to describe his work testing the oral polio vaccine in Russia with Dr. Mikhail Chumakov, stating, “A cooperative effort between Soviet scientists and myself began in 1956 and continued until 1959, when about 15 million persons received the oral polio vaccine in carefully controlled studies in different republics of the USSR.” Although they did not share the same ideologies, this did not hinder the cooperative effort between Dr. Sabin and Dr. Chumakov. Instead, they worked “together with mutual respect and friendship against a common enemy called polio.”

Dr. Sabin went further saying, “[W]e have a common interest in the elimination of disease that is a cause of human misery everywhere in the world. This common interest unites us in a desire for cooperation regardless of what else may separate us.”

A recent story on NPR, “At Polio’s Epicenter, Vaccinators Battle Chaos and Indifference” discussed distrust of the vaccine among Nigerians. According to Suleiman Abdullahi from the World Health Organization, “[A]s polio becomes almost extinct, some people are suspicious when a large polio vaccination campaign rolls into their village.” Even so, volunteers are still on the ground, trying to fight the disease. At the end of the article, correspondent Jason Beaubien asked, “But the big question remains: Is Nigeria capable of fully mounting that offensive and sustaining it until the job is done?”

Dr. Sabin believed polio could be eliminated throughout the world, and according to the “End Polio Now” campaign, the world is 99% polio-free. What will it take to achieve a 100% polio-free world? It seems like parts of Dr. Sabin’s speech on friendship and trust almost 30 years ago are still applicable today.

Note: Dr. Sabin’s “World Understanding, World Peace and Polio” speech can be found in Series #11 – Professional and Personal Engagements, Sub-series Awards and Honors, Box #5, Folder #5 – Rotary International, Award for World Understanding, 1985.

In 2010, the University of Cincinnati Libraries received a $314,258 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to digitize the correspondence and photographs of Dr. Albert B. Sabin. This digitization project has been designated a NEH “We the People” project, an initiative to encourage and strengthen the teaching, study, and understanding of American history and culture through the support of projects that explore significant events and themes in our nation’s history and culture and that advance knowledge of the principles that define America. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.