The March of Dimes was founded by Franklin Delano Roosevelt to combat a great scourge of his time: polio, a crippling disease that had left Roosevelt himself in a wheelchair. Today American children don't have to worry about getting polio. The disease has been almost completely eradicated thanks to the initiatives by the organization, which led to the development of childhood vaccinations. But the March of Dimes has continued on with a new focus on preventing premature births and birth defects.
Beginning the march
The March of Dimes actually began under a different name, the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (NFIP). Its original mission was to find ways to fight polio and also support people affected by the disease. Around the time of World War II the number of polio cases was rising. Tens of thousands of new cases cropped up each year.
In 1955 the tide turned. A new vaccine, discovered by Jonas Salk, a physician and March of Dimes grantee, was licensed. The vaccine slashed the number of polio cases within a few years.
But instead of throwing a party and disbanding the organization, March of Dimes' leaders decided to tackle a new front: preventing birth defects. The organization began putting money into genetics research and founding treatment centers to address birth defects across the nation.
It also established a new research center, named for Jonas Salk, to find out more about how diseases work. It was also at this time that the work of physician Virginia Apgar began to direct the foundation toward the issue of premature births.
Because many birth defects are actually caused by problems during pregnancy, the March of Dimes soon expanded its focus to promote healthy pregnancies as well.
Fostering healthy pregnancies
Today, the March of Dimes supports research and education to help women have healthy pregnancies and protect infant health. Its mission is more timely than ever because the number of babies born too early has been rising steadily in recent years. As of 2005, nearly 13 percent of all babies were born before they were ready. Early births deliver more than just tiny babies. They can also bring big health problems like impaired vision, learning disabilities and other lifelong issues.
There are many causes for preterm births, some genetic and some environmental. In many cases doctors just don't know why they occur. But some of these early births are preventable, like those related to:
- lack of health care during pregnancy;
- drug or alcohol use;
- low income;
- standing for long periods of time on the job; and
- lack of social support.
The March of Dimes helps women to have healthy pregnancies by focusing on wellness and prenatal care and putting money into research on premature births and birth defects. If you're interested in assisting the organization with its mission, donations can be made to the March of Dimes on its website www.marchofdimes.com.