The Odyssey of Eradication
A rare look inside one of the world’s most ambitious and important health campaigns, in some of the poorest parts of the world.
In 1988, the World Health Organization launched what was intended to be a twelve-year campaign to wipe out the polio virus and end the disease for all time. Seventeen years after that deadline, and several billion dollars over budget, the polio campaign continues to grind on, vaccinating millions of children and hoping that each new year might see an end to the disease. A surprisingly resilient polio virus, an unexpectedly weak vaccine, uninterested governments and public indifference in those countries still afflicted by the disease, added to the vagaries of global politics, have meant that success remains elusive.
How did an innocuous campaign to rid the world of a crippling disease become a hostage in geopolitical wars? Why do parents refuse to vaccinate their children against polio? And why have poorly paid healthworkers, trudging from door to door delivering drops of polio vaccine, been assassinated?
Drawing on detailed interviews with key players and reporting from the frontlines of the war against this potentially deadly disease, Thomas Abraham records the story of one of the world’s most ambitious health campaigns, and draws lessons for the future.
Thomas Abraham is Associate Professor at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre, University of Hong Kong, where he teaches health and science journalism. He has worked at the World Health Organization in Geneva and is the author of Twenty-First-Century Plague: The Story of SARS.