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Epidemiological endings

When I was a boy, I remember being taken to the Town Hall to receive the polio vaccine. It was presented on a white spoon, as pink syrup, and taken orally. I’m so grateful for it, for my father, when he was a boy, contracted polio when an epidemic swept through Queensland. He recovered, but the disease left him wearing a leg brace for life, and this week will mark another anniversary of his passing.

Before there was a vaccine, an Australian nurse had developed a method for relieving the paralysis caused by polio. Elizabeth Kenny received many accolades for her method, but once made this comment, after learning that some of her patients, who had recovered their mobility to join the war effort, were being struck down on the battlefield: “The real benefactor of mankind will be someone who can discover a new treatment against the world-wide epidemic of war.”

Now there’s a dream. Who could possibly bring an end to war? Not just an end to a wretched disease, but to a condition that makes the human heart want to inflict carnage, poverty and pain on others. Such a peacemaker would indeed deserve the highest accolade. But could there be such a one? ‘Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning,’ says the Book, ‘For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given, and of the increase of his government and peace, there will be no end.’

DM 21st August 2021

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