Tell me, do you hesitate to pick up a beautiful feather, discarded by an escaping pheasant? Do you hear your Mother’s voice as you bend down to touch it? I can tell your age by your answer.
As children, those of us denominated as ‘war babies’ knew that the greatest threat to continuing childhood was not the old man in the sweet shop with the wandering hands, but that feather. Not just the white feather of cowardice, nor the multi-coloured feather of the bird of paradise, but all feathers, any feather.
A feather could see your youthful limbs shackled in callipers at best; at worst, your entire body encased in the ‘iron lung’, a fearsome sounding machine that none of us had seen, but quaked in our boots at the mere mention of.
A feather could carry the Polio virus decimating American cities across the ocean, and drop innocently into your path in grimy Salford, enticing you to pick it up and ruin your entire life. A feather could turn you into the shuffling, limping, callipered creature that conducted your physics lessons, or the wheelchair bound figure of even the most powerful man on earth – Franklin Roosevelt. Alfred’s Hitchcok’s film of the Birds carried a resonance that those who watch it today would not begin to understand. Those feathers might come to you! Surround you! Arghh!
That today, earnest young people under the age of 30 couldn’t even tell you what Polio is, and cheerfully flood forums like Mumsnet with apparently educated reasons why their child will never have a vaccine, is generally credited to Jonas Salk, who invented a vaccine against the disease in 1952, which by 1994 had eradicated at least the ‘wild poliovirus’ in the Americas. There were still another two version of the virus at large in the world. As was the ‘wild poliovirus’.
There are many eulogies to Jonas Salk, most claiming that his greatest gift to mankind was not just that he invented the vaccine, but that he declined a patent and ‘gave’ it to the world. Slight hyperbole – he had already been advised by lawyers that it would not be possible to patent the vaccine; had he tried to, the request would have been denied. That issue of media hype shouldn’t cloud the gratitude later generations should accord the man.
More so today – for a couple of weeks ago, the Global Commission for the Certification of Poliomyelitis Eradication announced that the ‘wild poliovirus’ had quite simply been eradicated from the world. It is no more – though there are still two other versions at large.
Although Polio had theoretically been eradicated from Syria in 1999, 11 million people fleeing their homes has put the on-going vaccination programme that was keeping the virus under control way down the list of priorities – in April of this year there were 100 known cases of Polio inside Syria – and unknown thousands of ‘transmitters’ (reckoned to be 1,000 for every known victim) amongst those fleeing across Europe.
The media is amazingly silent regarding either the success of eradicating ‘wild polio virus’, surely on a par with eradicating small pox; or that one of the worst outbreaks in the past decade of Polio occurred amongst a population currently on the move across Europe. Most of the confirmed cases occurred in the rebel held areas of Syria, the very places where vaccination programmes were first disrupted.
A front page story in The Times today was hailing the discovery of a new and previously unknown poem by T.S.Elliot about a cat – further expanded inside the paper accompanied by pictures of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Cats’ production. This is important stuff.
No mention of the remarkable achievement of the World Health Organisation in eradicating at least some of the Polio threat. No mention of the threat heading towards Europe.