National charity The British Polio Fellowship says it is high time Dawn Clements is recognised for the key role she played in the 50s Polio vaccination programme in the UK. Dawn has never been formally recognised for what she did and now she has terminal cancer, the fight is on to see this unsung heroine receive some formal recognition.
Take up of the Polio vaccine in 1950s Britain had been slow, until, following the death of her husband from Polio, (the legendary England Footballer, Jeff Hall), Dawn went on a programme of making records and television appearances in the UK; like Elvis Presley did in the US. Dawn’s moving story of being a young widow as a result of Polio galvanised a nation to seek immunisation.
“At a time when Polio was killing and paralysing thousands with fear in the UK, Dawn got over her grief to take to the field for the nation to see that no one else had to go through what she did. Now it’s our turn to do the same for Dawn,” said Ted Hill, MBE, CEO of The British Polio Fellowship. “Many others have been rightly recognised for their efforts to support those with Polio and Post Polio Syndrome (PPS), but all too often it is the heroines of the story are forgotten. No more.”
A campaign has already begun in the local press in Birmingham where Dawn lives; Harriet Baldwin, Dawn’s local constituency MP for West Worcestershire has been approached to seek her support and The British Polio Fellowship is keen to see Dawn and her husband Allen as guests of honour at a dinner marking Jeff and the charity’s 75th anniversary later this year but all involved wish to see more formal and official recognition for Dawn and other wonder women like her.
While the creators of the Polio vaccines have been rightly celebrated for delivering eradication in the west, a massive awareness programme was needed to get people to take the vaccine following many scare stories and Dawn’s was the powerful voice in this. A similar programme is still needed to encourage people to take the vaccine if the End Polio Now campaign is to succeed. Now as then, it is often women who have been the pioneers. Here in the UK it was Dawn, while in India today it is the ‘Polio Aunties’ who have been hard at work encouraging people to be vaccinated.
“There is still a need to persuade people to take the vaccine in India and Pakistan and women are playing a key role in the fight and we need to recognise their unique role,” added Ted. “Some are still afraid the vaccine is a plot to sterilise them and reassurance is still a big task. It is right we celebrate the efforts of these women. Remembering women like Dawn will help focus minds on the fact that Polio is not yet beaten and that PPS is still a big presence in the UK.”
The charity is calling on the public to back the campaign and show their support by writing to their local MP, wherever they are in the country. In an age where we regularly honour pop stars and athletes for their individual achievements, it must be possible to honour someone whose achievements saved a generation and their children from the most terrifying illness the world has ever known.
“I am hopeful that with the support of local people in Birmingham and groups like The British Polio Fellowship, we can succeed in securing some recognition for Dawn, “said Dawn’s husband Allen Clements. “We have been overwhelmed by local support from the Mail and others and after 50 years, I think it would make Dawn’s day to know what she did all those years ago during the worst time of her young life still matters to people. We know it matters to fans of Birmingham City and we hope it means the same to others out there too.”
“I don’t think it matters how we recognise Dawn, but rather that we don’t forget her,” added Ted. “The 120,000 people still living with a forgotten condition like PPS know what that is like. The rest us are the lucky ones that thanks to Dawn have never had to know what Polio and PPS means.”
The British Polio Fellowship is a charity dedicated to helping, supporting and empowering those in the UK living with the effects of Polio and PPS. For more details or information on The British Polio Fellowship, call us on 0800 043 1935, email at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website at www.britishpolio.org.uk