Council
Science & Technology

Polio - the Rocky Road to Zero

Professor Sir Liam Donaldson
19th February 2019, 7:00pm
Manchester Conference Centre (Sackville Street)

Many people think that polio is gone from the world. Only those now over 70 years old can remember the devastating paralysis it caused in childhood. The tragic sight of rows of iron lungs keeping alive those who could no longer breathe for themselves is not even a distant memory for most people. The introduction of a vaccine was transformative and swept the disease out of most affluent countries of the world very quickly. Over time, the battle against the disease was won in low- and middle-income countries too. In the 1980s, a goal was set to eliminate polio entirely. This is possible because human beings are the only host of the virus. Many other infections have reservoirs of infection in animals. When the global polio eradication programme started, there were 1000 polio cases a day. By the late 2010s the figure was in the low 20s for the whole world. Smallpox is the only other disease to have been actively eradicated. The final stages of polio eradication have proved the most difficult and the most dangerous. Boko Haram has trapped communities in northern Nigeria and children cannot be reached to give them the vaccine. In areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan, anti-government and anti-Western groups also restrict access to vaccine. Polio vaccinators have been killed. The finishing line is in sight but formidable challenges remain. The lecturer will tell the story of polio and of the battle to make it extinct. 

 

 

About the speaker

Liam Donaldson is an international champion of patient safety and public health. He is a past vice-chairman of the World Health Organisation Executive Board. He is now the World Health Organisation’s Envoy for Patient Safety and Chairman of the Independent Monitoring for the Polio Eradication Programme. He holds appointments at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and at Chatham House. He is Chancellor of Newcastle University.

 

Sir Liam was the Chief Medical Officer for England, and the United Kingdom's Chief Medical Adviser, from 1998-2010. He produced landmark reports setting health policy and legislation in: stem cell research, quality and safety of health care, communicable disease control, patient empowerment, poor clinical performance, smoke free public places, medical regulation, and organ and tissue retention. 

Sir Liam trained as a surgeon and went on to hold academic posts before serving as Director of Public Health and NHS Regional Director for the Northern and Yorkshire regions.

 

He has received many public honours: 16 honorary doctorates from universities, eight fellowships from medical royal colleges and faculties, and the Gold Medal of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. He was the Queen's Honorary Physician in the late 1990s.  He was knighted in 2002.