March of Dimes

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March of Dimes is the name of several health charities in the United States and Canada. In the United States the March of Dimes is a national voluntary health charity founded in 1938 by United States President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis to defeat the epidemic disease polio, which killed or paralyzed thousands of Americans during the first half of the 20th century. President Roosevelt himself had lost the use of his legs to polio. The original purpose was to raise money for polio research and to care for those suffering from the disease. The name emphasized the national, nonpartisan, and public nature of the new organization, as opposed to private foundations established by wealthy families. The effort began with a radio appeal, asking everyone in the nation to contribute a dime (10 cents) to fight polio. The name "March of Dimes" for the fundraising campaign was coined by entertainer Eddie Cantor as a play on the popular newsreel feature of the day, The March of Time. Along with Cantor, many top Hollywood, Broadway, radio, and television stars served as promoters of the charity. Because of his close association with the cause, Roosevelt was portrayed on the US dime after his death. Over the years, the name "March of Dimes" became synonymous with that of the charity and was officially adopted in 1979.

For its first 17 years, the March of Dimes provided support for the work of many innovative and practical polio researchers and virologists. In the post-World War II years, the number of polio cases in the United States increased sharply, making the cause even more urgent.

Then, on April 12, 1955, the March of Dimes held a news conference to announce to the world that a polio vaccine developed by Dr. Jonas Salk was both safe and effective. The largest clinical trial in U.S. history, involving more than 1.8 million schoolchildren, had shown the vaccine to be 80 to 90 percent effective in preventing paralytic polio.

After supporting the development of two successful vaccines against polio (both Jonas Salk's and Albert Sabin's research were funded by the March of Dimes), the organization, rather than going out of business, decided in 1958 to use its charitable infrastructure to serve mothers and babies with a new mission: to prevent premature birth, birth defects and infant mortality. The organization accomplishes this with programs of research, community services, education, and advocacy.

The March of Dimes believes it is uniquely qualified by its history to take on some of the biggest threats to the health of today's babies and children, the first generation of the 21st century. Today the organization funds researchers working in biochemistry, microbiology, developmental biology, genetics, pediatrics, and many other fields. Along the way, it has helped support special neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) designed to treat the sickest babies; drug treatments to replace surgery for babies with a common heart defect; and folic acid education and food fortification to prevent neural tube defects, among other advances.

Several provincial organizations in Canada which similarly began as part of the campaign to eradicate polio are also known as the March of Dimes; they all belong to the Easter Seals March of Dimes National Council. They are not affiliated with the American organization. The largest of the Canadian organizations is Ontario March of Dimes, which today provides services to adults with physical disabilities and with post-polio syndrome (its official name is Rehabilitation Foundation for the Disabled, under which it also operates in the United States).

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