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Happy Birthday, FDR – A Celebration and Reminder

On the 141st anniversary of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's birth, UN Foundation's Peter Yeo reflects on his life as a polio survivor and his legacy as a leader in that fight.

by Peter Yeo

Today—on the 141st anniversary of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s birth—I am reminded not only of the leadership demonstrated by one of America’s great presidents and pioneers in the fight against polio, but also of the work that remains in eradicating the disease. It’s hard to believe that polio, which afflicted FDR a century ago, continues to plague many in the world today.

FDR was only 39 years old when he contracted this disabling disease in 1921. From that point on, he valiantly searched for a way to rehabilitate all who suffered the paralytic effects of polio.

Throughout his presidency and beyond, FDR advocated for those suffering from the crippling condition, offering hope that even those with the disease could succeed. Roosevelt founded Warm Springs, a therapeutic center for victims of polio in Georgia that continues to operate today, and the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis.

FDR proved that even when the odds are against you, one could still overcome those odds and make meaningful contributions to their country and the world. Roosevelt died in 1945, just seven years short of the introduction of the first polio vaccine by Dr. Jonas Salk in 1952.

I wholeheartedly believe that FDR would be proud of the progress we have made towards the eradication of polio, and equally resolved that the fight must continue until we reach that goal. Today, doctors and volunteers have administered polio vaccines to billions of people around the globe, offering children worldwide a life free from polio. Dedicated efforts have reduced polio cases worldwide by almost 99 percent since 1988, the disease is still endemic in just two countries—Afghanistan and Pakistan. That progress, however, is threatened, with countries such as Malawi and Mozambique recently reporting cases in addition to the case of polio in New York State this summer.

Until polio is eradicated, people in every country remain at risk. FDR knew that better than anyone. We must protect the progress we have made and continue the work to ensure that all children have access to the vaccine that protects them from this awful disease.

In celebrating the birthday of this remarkable man, we can each do our part to help eradicate this deadly disease and give a chance at a healthy life to children everywhere. In the spirit of FDR’s tenacious fight against polio, I hope that you will join Shot@Life in celebrating the impact of vaccines and taking action to support U.S. funding for global vaccines – a critical step for building a healthier and more secure world for us all.

I can think of no more fitting way to celebrate the birthday of America’s 32nd president and a pioneer in the fight against polio.


Peter Yeo is President of the Better World Campaign and Senior Vice President for Public Policy and Advocacy at the United Nations Foundation. You can read his full bio here.