I recommend watching ‘Journey of a lifetime’ by the paralympian Ade Adepitan, who contracted polio as a child, on Channel 4 tomorrow [Monday] at 8pm. It is an interesting and very personal account of polio today.
We are tantalisingly close to eliminating polio. Hilary Koprowski whose obituary appeared in the BMJ last week first invented a polio vaccine in 1950. It led to the disappearance of the polio wards, where children were encased in ‘iron lungs’, as in the picture, for months at a time and still usually left crippled. However fear and mistrust still prevent the eradication of this disease.
Immunisation has been said by many to be the most important and life saving medical invention, arguably saving more lives than antibiotics. A handful of Spanish invaders were able to conquer South America because the majority of natives died from the diseases they introduced [some areas decimated]. The 1st World War was responsible for more deaths than any in history but the Spanish Flu, towards the end of the war in 1918 killed far more – an estimated 50 to 100 million people [3 to 5 percent of the world’s population]. Bill Gates [of Microsoft] has in his wisdom poured billions into vaccinations, via GAVI, as it is one of the best ways to prevent needless deaths and disability.