WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Wednesday May 28, 2014, Dr. Ciro de Quadros, considered a public health hero, passed at age 74 in his home in Washington, D.C.
De Quadros has been considered “one of the most influential public health advocates of the past 50 years,” said Mr. Morton Hyman, Chairman of Sabin Vaccine Institute. His work has been so revolutionary it has been compared to the discovery of penicillin.
De Quadros was named a Public Health Hero of the Americas, which according to presenter and Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)/World Health Organization (WHO), Carissa F. Etienne, is PAHO’s highest distinction.
“There is no one who deserves it more than our much-respected and much-loved colleague, Ciro. We at PAHO believe that no single person has done more to extend the benefits of immunization to people throughout the Americas,” Etienne stated.
Throughout de Quadros’ career, he stressed the importance for all countries to prioritize and fund immunization programs regardless of economic status, and is most well known for his immunization campaign that helped to eradicate polio from Latin America and the Caribbean.
In an article published by the Huffington Post in April of last year, de Quadros stated, “Medicine, sanitation, nutrition, education – all are necessary and interrelated components of preventing and curing sickness. But there is one tool that stands out as the most effective way to protect fight disease: vaccines. Every child — no matter where he or she is born — has a fundamental right to vaccines.”
The dedication and optimism of de Quadros is unmatched, as he worked relentlessly to reach unvaccinated children under 5 in the most remote, war torn and underdeveloped areas in 15 different countries in Latin America.
De Quadros was so determined to provide children with vaccines that he negotiated 24-hour cease fires between rebels and the government in El Salvador and Guatemala for “tranquility days” dedicated to immunizations. De Quadros recalled in an article in “Perspectives in Health,” the magazine of PAHO, that they set aside three days every year, and in this time were able to vaccinate nearly every child in El Salvador.
Although he was not able to negotiate with the Shining Path guerillas in Peru, the team of vaccinators worked around rebel locations and covered areas when battle lines shifted.
The last reported case of polio in Latin America was in 1991 in Pichinaki, Peru, and by 1994 it had been declared eradicated.
At the time of his death, de Quadros held the position of Executive Vice President of Sabin Vaccination Institute. The CEO of the institute, Michael W. Marine stated, “As a direct result of his tireless advocacy and steadfast conviction that good health is a fundamental human right, millions of children around the world are alive today, and millions more have grown into healthy, productive adults.”
His work in war-town areas of Latin America is reminiscent of recent events involving the polio outbreak in Syria, where WHO reports stated the difficulties in sustaining immunization rates “due to the severe interruption of public health services and to the conditions in which the people are living,”
Others will still continue to work toward de Quadros’ vision to completely eradicate polio and vaccinate the children of Syria and surrounding infected areas.