More than 100 people in Coventry were struck down in 1957, despite the ministry of health instituting the vaccination programme in 1956. Outbreaks at the time were rife, with other major Polio hotspots including Hull and Belfast. The claims and counter claims back then put Coventry in the national spotlight and can still shine a light on what needs to be done now to end Polio and better support those living with PPS – a neurological condition for which there is no cure.
“Despite the vaccine and the involvement of the then MP for Coventry North, Maurice Edelman, the Coventry epidemic of 1957 proved how hard it can be to bring Polio under control,” said CEO of The British Polio Fellowship, Ted Hill MBE. “Efforts got bogged down in admin and the ‘blame game’. There was also a lack of faith in ‘experts’ at the time in an echo of our modern world. Even in 1957, experts couldn’t take acceptance for granted, but had to explain in a way public and policy makers alike could accept.
The British Polio Fellowship has taken Coventry as a case study to inform their approach both to delivering improved services for those with PPS and indeed, defending ongoing support and the government’s £100m in new funding to eradicate Polio worldwide.
“Sending money abroad when people are feeling the pinch at home is controversial, even if supported by ‘experts’,” added Ted. “We have to explain such moves are in our national interest, and why. It was said in 1957 that the ‘Polio disease was not a Coventry question, nor merely a Great Britain question – it was (and is) international’. This remains true today and until Polio is defeated worldwide, it can return. The experience of Coventry all those years ago should give us the resolve to ensure this never happens.”
In terms of PPS, while experts are vital, the charity has recognised the need to get the message to a wider audience – to explain not just the condition itself but also why the people living with it deserve support.
“Supporting people with PPS when there is no cure costs money but, properly managed, PPS can be controlled, lessening the burden on the NHS and society in the process,” added Ted. “This is a win-win for all concerned but we have to make that clear to the medical profession, politicians and of course the public.”
For further information about the British Polio Fellowship, visit www.britishpolio.org.uk or call 0800 043 1935.