The world loses one of the “true heroes” of polio eradication

Ali Maow Maalin, smallpox survivor and Somali polio eradication champion, passes away.

Ali Maow Maalin in 1977 – WHO /John F. Wickett

Ali Maow Maalin, recently described as being one of the “true heroes” of polio eradication, passed away on 22 July in his home district of Merka, Somalia, due to sudden illness.

The last person to be infected with naturally occurring smallpox anywhere in the world, Mr Maalin was struck with the virus in 1977 whilst working as a cook at a Merka hospital. Fearing the needle would be painful, he’d previously avoided vaccination by holding his arm when vaccinators came to visit, pretending he’d already received the shot. But after recovering from the potentially deadly illness, he vowed not to let others make the same mistake.

Mr Maalin used his story to illustrate the importance of vaccination and became an important advocate for polio eradication in Somalia, playing an instrumental role in its defeat of the disease in 2008: “Somalia was the last country with smallpox. I wanted to help ensure that we would not be the last place with polio too,” he told the BBC at the time.

A district polio officer, he died on the second day of the polio eradication vaccination campaign he was conducting in Merka district, part of the Supplementary Immunization Activities taking place 21-25 July in response to the current outbreak. A profile of Mr Maalin’s work described him as one of the eradication programme’s “most valuable local polio coordinators”.
Mr Maalin leaves behind a wife and three children. The thoughts of everyone at the Global Polio Eradication Initiative are with his family at this time.

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