A tribute to a true hero of polio eradication

Ali Maow Maalin in 1977. Photo by John F. Wickett/WHO

Ali Maow Maalin in 1977. Photo by John F. Wickett/WHO

Editor’s note: Ali Maow Maalin, a district polio officer, passed away on 22 July in his home district of Merka, Somalia, due to a sudden illness. Below is a blog post by George R. Camp, a Rotary Foundation Cadre technical adviser and past governor of District 7230 (Bermuda and part of New York, USA), which appeared on our blog recently honoring Maalin.

Who are the true heroes of polio eradication?

Somalia, once polio-free, is again batting an outbreak of the virus. According to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, there were 45 cases of polio in Somalia this year as of 9 July, nearly half the cases occurring worldwide in 2013.

As I was researching the outbreak, I ran across the story of Ali Maow Maalin, a Somalian who has been instrumental in his country’s efforts to eradicate the disease. Reading about Maalin on the web inspired me, and I hope these highlights of his story inspire you as well:

Maalin was born in 1954 and went on to pursue a career as a hospital cook. In 1977, he contracted smallpox and is known as the last person to contract a naturally occurring form of the virus. The strain he contracted was a weaker one, and he made a full recovery. Because of his brush with smallpox, Maalin became committed to the effort to rid his country of another virus, polio. He became heavily involved in the polio eradication efforts in his country joining more than 10,000 volunteers, who were eventually successful in getting Somalia declared polio-free in 2008.

Maalin, as a local coordinator for the World Health Organization (WHO), was responsible for social mobilization, and traveled extensively throughout Somalia encouraging parents in communities to immunize their children against polio. The Boston Globe, in a 2006 article on polio, described him as one of WHO’s “most valuable” coordinators. He explained his effectiveness by saying “Now when I meet parents who refuse to give their children the polio vaccine, I tell them my story. I tell them how important these vaccines are. I tell them not to do something foolish like me. (Boston Globe, 27 February, 2006)”

Maalin is just one of many health workers who are carrying out efforts in the field. Their dedication is an example to us all as we fight to fulfill Rotary’s pledge to end polio. We as Rotarians must and will redouble our commitment to End Polio Now.

5 thoughts on “A tribute to a true hero of polio eradication

  1. Very sad but an inspirational story .I shared it on to My Face Book & also will forward it to My fellow Rotract,Interact & Rotarian.


  2. Am forwarding this article on to the members of our club. Great article and makes you aware that polio is still around.


  3. Pingback: Today’s Links | Rotary International District 3040

  4. Pingback: True heroes of polio eradication | Warsaw Rotary , Club 3393, District 6540

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