Monday, October 22, 2012

World Polio Day - 24th or 28th October?

The article in the prestigious JAMA (the Journal of American Medical Association) begins as, “…As World Polio Day is remembered on October 24…” [1]. The official site of World Health Organization’s Western Pacific region also mentions [2]:

World Polio Day originally brought people together to remember the birth of a man who led the first team to develop a vaccine against polio, Dr. Jonas Salk. It was the development of this vaccine, and its successor oral polio vaccine, that enabled the world to embark on an ambitious journey – the eradication of polio. Every year on 24 October, people around the world shine a spotlight on the importance of global eradication.”

My own interview (I am a polio survivor) was published as World Polio Day special on Times Internet Limited's venture on 24 Oct 2011[3]. So far so good. 

Let’s move on to the title of an article published in the journal ‘Vaccine’ [4]. It states- Salk. Born 28 October 1914, New York, NY; died 23 June 1995, La Jolla, CA. Yes, it’s the complete title and a Google search will tell you that Salk was indeed born on 28th October. The Wikipedia page on Jonas Salk also mentions the same date. In fact, Jonas Salk's eldest son, Peter mentions some factual errors in the ‘talk page’ of this wiki page but he did not contradict the birth date so I assume it’s correct [5].

World Polio Day is not mentioned in the list of United Nation’s Observances [6]. However there is a complete website on this day  On contacting the site, I got immediate response which reads:

"Dear Dr. Singh,You are so right. 24th of October has been chosen by a.o. the Rotary Foundation to commemorate the month in which Jonas Salk was born. We will correct this immediately."

The closest balancing act in this mess is done by an Australian agency which carefully states, “…Wear Orange for World Polio Day each year which falls on or near the birthdate of Jonas Salk (28 October)”[7]. This is the closest accurate version which I could find on literature. For years, Rotary International and Gates foundation are celebrating this day on 24th. The honest error may be giving out wrong impression but nobody could ever forget Salk’s response when he was asked who holds the patent of this vaccine. He famously said- “Nobody. Could you patent the Sun?”

The Enablist’s view: We have two excellent vaccines, IPV and OPV, but the unsavoury arguments about their merits and defects had led to delays in controlling the disease in endemic countries and in its ultimate eradication. Whether 24th or 28th, I feel neither Dr Salk’s family nor anybody else would mind if we achieve the broader goal of Polio eradication. Let’s hope people of Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan join the global community in fight against eradication.


1.    Mitka M. Polio eradication goal still elusive. JAMA. 2004 Oct 20;292(15):1805-6.
Retrieved 22 October 2012.
4.     Spier RE. Jonas Salk. Born 28 October 1914, New York, NY; died 23 June 1995, La Jolla, CA. Vaccine. 1995 Nov;13(16):1487.
5. Retrieved 22 October 2012.
6. Retrieved 22 October 2012.
7. Retrieved 22 October 2012.