When polio became global: a pre-history of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI)

(Joint with the Vaccine Centre)

Dora Vargha
(Postdoctoral Research Associate, Birkbeck, University of London)

Although the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was launched in 1988, the idea of eradicating the disease appeared already in the late 1950s. In 1959 Mikhail Chumakov, Soviet colleague of Albert Sabin advocated the new oral live virus polio vaccine as capable of not only curbing, but also eliminating the disease. The WHO’s Third Expert Committee Report on poliomyelitis in 1960 raised the possibility of a concerted polio eradication with mass oral vaccination campaigns. Such sentiments were based on comparative analyses of epidemiological data from across the globe and on vaccine trials spanning from Mexico through Singapore and the Belgian Congo to Czechoslovakia. Cooperation in vaccine development cut across Cold War divisions, while the evaluation of live vaccines mirrored conventional East-West divides in a concern for global and national security. This paper gives an analysis of international concepts and practices in polio prevention in the post-war decades and explores the ways in which the scientific practices, intertwined with Cold War politics of the 1950s and 1960s were formative to the current polio eradication campaign.

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Thursday, 16th October 2014, 12.45 pm – 2.00 pm
Venue:  LG9, Keppel Street Building