I’ll begin with Dr. Ciro de Quadros. Why more people do not know of him is baffling. This handsome, dynamic man was head of the Pan American Health Organization when the organization I worked for, Rotary International (RI), decided to help the world eradicate polio. In the 70s and 80s polio was crippling some 1,000 children every day.
Dr. de Quadros was a member of the Order of the Bifurcated Needle, awarded by the World Health Organization’s Dr. D.A. Henderson to the international team instrumental in eradicating smallpox in 1977. [A two-pronged or bifurcated needle was what was used to administer smallpox vaccine.] Dr. de Quadros had led the fight against smallpox in Ethiopia, delivering protection in the midst of chaos and conflict.
When I joined the RI staff (in 1979) the organization had just decided to support a global effort to help eradicate polio. The organization was going to raise the money and enlist its vast network of volunteers to wipe out a major crippler and sometimes killer of children. Dr. de Quadros was head of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) – an obvious partner for RI’s efforts. He led one of history’s boldest public health efforts in which teams of health workers, often with the assistance of local Rotary volunteers, worked to immunize the children of the Western Hemisphere.
In 1994, I was in PAHO’s Washington, D.C. headquarters when its local and regional staff waited in the auditorium for the report from the commission accessing the effort. All through the introductions it seemed as though no one in the audience was breathing.
Then it came. The official declaration. Polio had been eradicated in the Western Hemisphere. And those who had worked, almost literally, in the trenches of the effort, and those who supported them from the offices at home exploded in shared jubilation.
In his ceaseless efforts to enlist support for immunization, Dr. de Quadros often came to RI’s headquarters and invited staff to PAHO’s offices. Collaboration was a keynote of his style. He invited me to a PAHO meeting in Mexico City to help PAHO staff publicize immunization efforts and, later, I lobbied for his participation in the 1991 RI convention in Mexico City. However small my efforts, I believe they helped.
And one of my great rewards was the privilege of working (however tangentially) with one of the world’s heroes, Dr. Ciro de Quadros.
He is missed but now immortal.