BIG Five: Jonas Salk

Our next BIG Five is Jonas Salk. Again, it is quite likely he is unknown to you. Yet he was a major player in the eradication of disease by vaccination. In the case of Salk this was polio. In my parents generation they had school friends die of polio. Now it is endemic in only two countries in the world. Much the same can be said of TB, although there is a rise recently in London after near eradication a decade ago. We live in a world in the UK largely devoid of life threatening childhood disease because of vaccinations.

This transforms your world, yet it is a fragile transformation. The MMR scare of 2005, when parents began not to immunise against measles illustrates this very well. A decade later, as those children began to mix and mingle, measles increased. And measles in a killer disease. In assessing the evidence for and against MMR, perhaps parents had become so use to the lack of fatal disease they forgot it was because of the immunisation.

Finally, it is interesting how history repeats itself. Leverhulme, the soap philanthropist, built a village at Port Sunlight to educate his workers and improve their living conditions and health. Gates, the computer philanthropist, has focused on education and disease (malaria) in Africa. Removing fatal disease and allowing space for education – in Victorian times and now.