Podcast #20: The War on Polio

Join our podcast host and former NYT editor David Corcoran as he talks with Jo Chandler about her Undark Case Study on the campaign to wipe out polio in a corner of Nigeria where it stubbornly hangs on. Also: Science and media commentator Seth Mnookin, and Emily Pontecorvo on growing your own produce at home.

A full transcript of the podcast follows.

David Corcoran: This is Undark. We’re a magazine devoted to exploring the intersection of science and society, and we’re this podcast. Hello again. Welcome to Episode 20. I’m David Corcoran.

Polio. It’s a word that used to strike fear into families everywhere — the name of a cruel virus that caught up with children on the playground or in school or summer camp and sentenced them to a lifetime of paralysis. In the United States and other parts of the developed world, we have the luxury of speaking about polio in the past tense, but the disease is still very much alive in a few corners of the world.

Reporter Jo Chandler recently spent time in one of those corners to write a cover story for Undark about the effort to wipe it out for good. She joins us now. Jo Chandler, welcome.

Jo Chandler: Thank you, David.

David Corcoran: Let’s talk about the persistence of polio. Given the almost complete success of the polio vaccine here, how does the virus manage to hang on, and where?

Jo Chandler: OK, it’s been an extraordinary story. It was back in 1988 that this sort of global effort was pulled together to try and do what’s never been done before except for smallpox, where the ambition was to rid the planet of this disease. So since 1988, when there were about 350,000 cases of polio globally, we’ve spent something like $15 billion. By last year, we had whittled that number down to just 37 cases, which is an extraordinary effort.

Astonishingly, so far this year, we’re down to 12, a mere 12, and that’s sort of well under the figure that we had for the same time last year. So it’s really getting quite tantalizingly close, the prospect that we might actually win this war against polio.

But the last-ditch efforts, where it’s really dug in, and it’s proving really, really difficult to eradicate, are really in these sort of incendiary, really dangerous corners of the world, where you get extremists like the Taliban and, in northern Nigeria, Boko Haram.

You know basically mad, bad men with guns who will not let vaccine teams into these regions, who stir up local concerns sometimes that the vaccine program is some sort of Western plot, or who have just really an agenda that is anti-West on everything including medicine.

That said, there are some Taliban and many Muslim communities that are highly supportive and want this vaccine for their kids, but there are just these pockets where it’s become really too dangerous for vaccinators to get in there. So you’ve got these sort of last, festering crucibles of disease, and this enduring prospect that it’s just so easy for it to escape the containment lines and get back into the world.

David Corcoran: Yeah, let’s talk about that a little. You say there’ve been only a dozen cases this year, which suggests that polio is really almost completely wiped out. Why are the authorities so keen to eradicate it completely?

Jo Chandler: Well, the great fear is that after these almost 30 years of effort and all those billions of dollars, that it could just all be undone. As I said, if the virus breaks out of the containment lines and manages to sneak inside … it’s carried inside the human gut. It can thrive and multiply there. It can walk out of these communities really quite easily, and we’ve seen this happen before.

The great concern is that if we don’t manage to actually quash this disease completely, even in these really remote strongholds, within a decade, that could cascade into as many as 200,000 children being paralyzed globally every year.

So there’s an enormous amount at stake here if this virus manages to find its way back out into the world and to fall upon communities that don’t have adequate vaccination and fire itself up again. And we’ve seen the sense of the wildfire potential of that outbreak. If we just look back in Nigeria to 2003, in 2002, the number of polio cases across the whole of Nigeria was down to just over 200.

Then in 2003, the vaccine programs in five states across the Muslim north were all shut down just for a couple of months in most instances, and a year in one state, in Kano, but the effect of that was absolutely catastrophic. By 2006, it had spiked right back up again to over 1,100 cases in Nigeria.

Then it escaped and genetic analysis later showed that the virus, the particular strains that had come out of Nigeria through this period of bans on vaccine in one part of the country, had gone to 20 countries right across Africa, the Middle East, into Southeast Asia, and caused 80 percent of the world’s cases of polio paralysis at that time.

The cost to regain control was about half a billion dollars, so it doesn’t take much. One bit of, kind of, interference in those vaccination regimes and really quickly it can race out of control like a wildfire.

David Corcoran: Your story opens up in that state of Kano in, I guess, the capital city, also called Kano. Why did you go there particularly, and what did you see?

Jo Chandler: Kano, as I mentioned before, it was really a hotspot for the rejuvenation of polio across Africa and more broadly, just those few years ago. And that was because there had been this real festering of a couple of things that had occurred. This is a hard-line Muslim state. It’s ruled by Sharia law, and there had been really a good deal of suspicion around the vaccine. There were some mullahs, some religious leaders, some traditional leaders, who were concerned whether there was some sort of plot, whether this vaccine was safe for their children.

Then this was all inflamed when a very respected local doctor broadcast his belief that he had some evidence that there were some sort of contaminants in the vaccine that had been planted there to reduce the fertility of the Muslim population. So you can imagine the effect of this in this community. That was when the boycotts were put in place on the vaccines.

So in order to really counter this, and to get the vaccine program working again through this area, there’s been this really intense effort by health specialists, by cultural specialists. You’re bringing in all sorts of social scientists as well as medical experts to try and rehabilitate and re-establish faith in the vaccine.

As I said, Kano was kind of the epicenter of resistance and concern about polio vaccine. So when we were in that square in Kano, what we were really seeing was this incredible pageant, this mixture of health messaging, but also cultural and religious messaging.

And it was all about broadcasting to this assembled gathering that their religious leaders were on board with this, that it was OK to be taking this vaccine. That their traditional leaders, who have immense power in this part of the country were supportive and wanting to see them use this vaccine, that they had faith in this vaccine. Then you’ve got the bureaucracy of the actual health systems.

So we were sort of sitting in this public square watching this incredible extravaganza of an event that’s really a public relations exercise in trying to build faith in the vaccine program. As a journalist, I’m sitting there in the middle of this, and in some ways, it’s an incredibly frustrating moment because I just want to get out of the heat, and I want to get away from the officials.

We’ve been sitting there for several hours. And what I really wanted to do was to be in the villages with the vaccine teams while they go door to door finding babies and giving them vaccine and talking to these teams of mostly young women and to mothers and to families about what this means to them and their attitudes around the vaccine.

But we’re sort of held hostage for several hours in this incredibly hot public square while we watch all this process go on. You have moments in your career when there’s this “aha” moment, and you feel this kind of layering of experience build up. And this is one of those, where as a reporter, I’ve reported on health and development issues, disease like TB, HIV, malaria, for a good 15 years now, and in countries like Papua New Guinea and the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique and Afghanistan.

What you see is that none of these programs work unless you do your homework with those communities. You can’t come in arrogantly and impose. You must consult the local people. You must ask permission.

And similarly as journalists, when we’re in these places, we can’t just bowl into a village and stick a microphone in front of somebody. We have to be humble enough to ask permission, to get entry to a community. Or the risk is that if we kind of just go in there with heavy boots, we might undo all the work that’s been done trying to build faith and local networks and relationships in order to deliver vaccine to these communities.

So sort of sitting there with sweat dropping off me, watching this whole thing unfold, I guess that was the moment for me to realize I thought that I was coming to watch the vaccine taken door to door, but in fact the key to this whole campaign is this moment, this bit of official, sort of, public relations.

David Corcoran: But then you did go with a team of vaccinators on an excursion to vaccinate young children. Can you describe one of those visits? What were the people like that you went with, and the people whom you met with in those homes there?

Jo Chandler: We went out to several villages and one remote village, well on the outskirts of Kano. Then we went to another sort of urban center further up in the country, right under the border with Niger. That was in the city of Katsina. And in these instances, what we’re doing is trailing behind the vaccine teams.

These are groups, as I said, mostly young women. They’re kind of always from these communities. They’re organized like troops. From the foot soldiers at the very bottom up through different layers of authority until you get to the generals of this operation.

But the foot soldiers are regular women who know these communities inside out, and they have been quietly watching. They know which households have new babies, which households were missed last time in the vaccine push. And three or four times a year, they go out to do these supplementary immunization massive campaigns.

What would occur is you’d come to the village, and there are drums, and there’s clowns dancing in the street. There’s this character called Papa Lolo with this enormous bottom and a tail like a horse, and his face is painted purple. And he’s throwing candy and little sachets of dried milk to try and attract, to lure the children, really. He’s the pied piper trying to bring these kids out of the houses.

So it’s really a joyous occasion. It’s loud and crazy and musical, and there’s people dancing. And they’re sort of distracted by and excited by this campaign. And of course, in the villages we went to, it’s made a bit more interesting by us. There’s a little entourage of journalists with our police guards rolling along with us as well.

But we would trail along with these vaccinators and literally go from door to door of these little huts and communities. Mostly earthen, and you weave your way inside, having asked permission from whatever woman we would find at the door.

Then all the vaccinators, they ask this routine, set list of questions about how many children under 5 are in the house, whether there are any visitors who have slept over. Are there new babies? Have the children been vaccinated? Can they vaccinate them?

Then they pull out from their icebox these little, you know, the pink drops. The little pink drops, which certainly someone of my vintage, I remember having those as a kid before we moved to a different sort of vaccination, injected regime in the developed world.

So it’s really quite an extravaganza and also, mixed in with this crowd as you move from door to door, are survivors of polio. So there are people who basically have no legs, withered legs, and they’re propelling themselves across the ground with their hands, maybe with a pair of flip-flops threaded onto their hands to protect them from the earth. Or they might sometimes be on these sort of low cycle chairs that they make for polio survivors.

And if the vaccine teams hit a household where the father, and it’ll be the father that imposes this, is objecting. As the household head, he says that he doesn’t want the children to have vaccine. And the women fall into line behind that. Then it becomes this negotiation between the men. The survivors of polio, the local mullahs, other traditional leaders will run an intervention with this man and try to persuade him that he’s wrong, and that he should allow the vaccine to be given to his children.

So it’s this sort of SWAT team coming behind the vaccinators to try to support them, to make sure that the vaccines are given.

David Corcoran: And of course, the vaccine has to be administered more than once. Right?

Jo Chandler: That’s right. Four times really, for it to be considered effective. So that’s the really tricky issue here, in that these teams have to hit that kid, find that child four times before he or she is 5 years old. And I mean you can imagine in these countries where a street address is a luxury, let alone a house.

And so India was always considered the place that was going to be the most difficult to get rid of this. And yet, through absolute persistence and determination, India, with 1.3 billion people, and many of them living in slums and on streets, they wiped out that disease, and India was five years free of polio back in January last year.

But what’s proved tougher is places like northern Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Really this one last valley on the border there, where the problem is getting the vaccine past these hard-liners.

David Corcoran: So what do you think the outlook is? Do you think this campaign is ultimately going to succeed and overcome these obstacles that are kind of being put in the way by politics and war?

Jo Chandler: Well, you look at it, and you say 12 cases [worldwide] so far this year, and last year I think the whole year, there was something like 27. There hasn’t been a single case yet in Nigeria this year, which is extraordinary. And Nigeria had been three years free of polio, and people were thinking that maybe it had crossed the line. Until last year, when there was this little cluster that came out of a sort of Boko Haram-held area and sort of escaped the containment.

But now, just 12 cases, it’s just so tantalizing to think that maybe it is actually achievable, and that within a year or two there’ll be none. And that, as I said, this extraordinary thing that first smallpox and now polio, that we will have beaten it.

I think the big concern, though, that many people have is well, there’s the Trump factor, and there is a lot of discussion about how the Gates Foundation have warned that if the, sort of, 30 percent cuts to U.S. foreign aid that have been proposed by President Trump go ahead, then polio could exploit that and make a comeback. But as I understand, there’s a bipartisan task force of former state and USAID and congressional staffers, who are pushing back quite hard against those sorts of cuts.

And don’t forget, you’ve got an organization like Rotary, so all this vast network of schoolteachers and accountants and doctors spread all around the world who have spent 30 years networking and raising, you know, putting their hand in their pocket to beat this. They’re very well connected, and they’re powerful. Maybe their voice will be heard.

David Corcoran: Did you say Rotary?

Jo Chandler: Yeah, Rotary have been a huge partner in this whole campaign, together with the Gates Foundation. It’s extraordinary, really: It was Rotary that back in 1988 came up with this idea that polio could be beaten, and they’ve been passing the tin in suburban lunches every month for those 30 years. And they are really a critical part of the campaign, a critical partner along with the Centers for Disease Control, the Gates Foundation, WHO, and Unicef.

David Corcoran: Jo Chandler is a freelance journalist, author, editor, and educator based in Melbourne, Australia. Her report on the fight to eradicate polio is at undark.org. Scroll down to Case Studies.

Jo, thanks so much.

Jo Chandler: Thanks so much for talking to me, David.

David Corcoran: Joining us now is Seth Mnookin, our commentator on science in the media. Hello, Seth.

Seth Mnookin: Hello, David. How are you?

David Corcoran: I’m OK, thank you. You, on the other hand, just got back on the red eye from San Francisco, where you attended a biennial extravaganza of science journalism. Can you tell us about it?

Seth Mnookin: Sure. Yeah. It was the World Conference of Science Journalists. This year it was in the United States. We also found out that in two years, it will be Lausanne, Switzerland.

David Corcoran: Sign me up.

Seth Mnookin: Exactly. And when it’s in the United States, it’s sort of an enlarged version of the annual National Association of Science Writers meeting. There were about 1,300 science journalists from around the world, so it was a pretty exciting event and a really good chance to connect with colleagues not just from around the world, but around the country and find out what people’s concerns are, and issues are, and everything else in the world of science journalism.

David Corcoran: Who knew there were that many science journalists?

Seth Mnookin: Yes, exactly.

David Corcoran: So what were some of the themes that came up at the conference?

Seth Mnookin: One thing that I found really came up a lot in the sort of un-conference part of the conference, the conversations in hallways and over lunch and breaks and in between sessions, was issues of sexual harassment. That’s something that both in the science world and in the science journalism world, and now in the media world has been kind of coming up to the forefront more and more over the last several years.

There was a big issue/controversy involving sexual harassment in science journalism a couple of years ago involving some people very prominent in the science blogging world. Over the last year or two, Buzzfeed in particular has broken a number of stories about sexual harassment in very prominent labs around the country and harassment that it turns out had been sort of an open secret for a long time.

Then just within the last couple of weeks, there’s been, obviously, in addition to the Harvey Weinstein revelations, a series of revelations about people in media, not necessarily in science media, but prominent people in the media world. So there was a lot of discussion about that, that I picked up and participated in.

And discussion about how to deal with those issues at places like conferences. How to have a code of conduct that is going to protect people, protect freelancers who come to these conferences. How to deal with issues when there are complaints about conference participants.

They are difficult conversations to have, but I found it very heartening because those are conversations that we just weren’t having very recently. And I think for someone who has not been subject to harassment, it’s been difficult for me to learn how sort of clueless I was about the extent of things that were going on, and that women in particular, had to deal with just on a regular basis.

But it is heartening that that is now being discussed out in the open, and that as a community, we are taking steps to try and deal with this.

David Corcoran: Yeah, one of the things that keeps coming up in these discussions is the imbalance of power. When you talk about freelancers, they have very little power when they’re dealing with editors of publications.

Seth Mnookin: Yeah, and that’s becoming, I think, even more of an issue as sort of staff positions within the science journalism world continue to diminish, and more and more people are really supporting themselves primarily through freelance. Just in the graduate program of science writing at MIT, I’ve noticed a real shift, just in the last three or four years in terms of the percentage of our graduates who are starting their careers primarily as freelancers.

And that puts them in an incredibly vulnerable position, as you said, in multiple ways. You know, one of the things that has been very eye-opening for me is that I’m constantly telling young journalists and telling students, “Get out there. Go to conferences. Find people who either you admire their writing, or they’re editors at a publication that you really like. And make connections with them.”

I’d been for years kind of clueless about the extent to which I was potentially recommending that young journalists or students put themselves in potentially vulnerable situations. And the fact that that conversation is now being had openly, I think is a real step forward, and is allowing us as the science writing community to address some of this.

This year, the National Association of Science Writers, a group that I’m on the board of, we adopted a code of conduct that was designed to address some of these issues.

David Corcoran: What are a couple of concrete planks in that platform?

Seth Mnookin: It essentially involves behavior that makes people feel uncomfortable. It establishes that everyone has a right to be there and not be subject to behavior that is going to make them feel threatened or uncomfortable. And it gives the board mechanisms through which they can remove people from the conference, which is just something that had not been in place previously.

So I think that the fact that all of this is coming out in the open means that people who perpetrate that type of behavior, people who were unaware that it was going on, people who might be victims of that type of behavior are all hopefully more willing to talk about it and address it openly and really try and establish that this is not behavior that is ever acceptable in this community.

David Corcoran: Speaking of freelancers and behavior, I understand there was a lot of talk at the conference about an issue that we’ve covered on this podcast and in Undark, which is a magazine called Nautilus.

Seth Mnookin: Yeah. So as Undark wrote about a couple months ago, there was a fair amount of frustration with Nautilus over delayed payments, sometimes thousands of dollars of delayed payments, to freelancers. I heard that topic come up again.

I’ve not done independent reporting on it, so can’t offer sort of a nitty-gritty update, but the frustration that I heard was very similar to what was expressed in the Undark piece, which was not so much there are issues with late payments, but that simultaneous to their being issues with really late payments, Nautilus is continuing to go out and solicit work from writers.

That has really rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, I think very understandably. And it also, in a way, I think that conversation highlights one of the things that is really beneficial about these type of gatherings and about these type of conferences.

Especially as more and more of the science writing community is involved in freelancing, in that it gives people a chance, who might typically be working in a rather isolated situation or working alone, a chance to connect with other people in the same situation, and trade that type of intelligence and sort of learn what else is going on out there in the industry. And decide if they get a pitch from Nautilus, or if they’re pitching stories to places, whether that’s someplace they want to consider.

It’s disappointing, I think, to a lot of people, because Nautilus has done so much really good work, and there’s definitely a hope that they survive. But at the same time, given this sort of hand-to-mouth existence of so many freelancers, this is engendered a lot of ill will.

David Corcoran: Seth Mnookin is our media and science commentator. He’s the author of a number of books about science and journalism, including “The Panic Virus,” and he’s director of the Graduate Program in Science Writing at MIT. Seth, as always, thanks.

Seth Mnookin: Thank you so much, David. It’s great to talk to you.

David Corcoran: For people who live in the Northeast, and want to buy local food, the winter can be grim. Cooking root vegetables month after month wears on even the most innovative home chefs. But what if you could have local produce regardless of the season or the climate? What if you could grow anything you wanted in the comfort of your own home? Emily Pontecorvo has this story.

James O’Brien: One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight sprouts right there. Those are all lettuce sprouts. Those two are basil.

Emily Pontecorvo: It’s January, and I’m standing with James O’Brien in his basement in Connecticut. James is a senior in high school. His first love is musical theater, but in the past year, he’s developed a new obsession, growing food in a box in his basement.

James O’Brien: We could totally live in a world, in a country, in a society, where we have a totally different way of growing our food. You can bring food where you are. It doesn’t need to be somewhere else anymore.

Emily Pontecorvo: James had never really thought about where his food came from, but last summer, he saw this video of an engineer from MIT, who invented something called the Personal Food Computer. The guy’s name was Caleb Harper, and he said his device had the potential to liberate agriculture. It was going to allow anyone, anywhere, any time of year to grow food. James didn’t know how to build a computer, and he had never even put a plant in a windowsill before. But he was drawn to the possibility of the food computer.

James O’Brien: All I had to do was I ended up downloading, like they had instructions for it. They had all the software available, a list of materials you should buy. And I had some time that summer, this past summer, and I went for it. I got all the parts [at] Home Depot, maxed out Amazon Prime, and ended up constructing the device in a couple of weeks.

Emily Pontecorvo: Picture like a small greenhouse that hooks up to your computer, then an app, where you can design the climate inside. You can control the amount of carbon, oxygen, light, moisture, nutrients, everything. So for example:

James O’Brien: There’s yeast in a bottle with sugar, and as the yeast eats up the sugar, it releases carbon dioxide. And there’s a little valve that lets the carbon dioxide come on out through a tube right into the food computer.

Emily Pontecorvo: The idea is that if you can control all these inputs or code the climate, you can create the optimal conditions for whatever you want to grow. Then you can save that data and do it again the exact same way.

James’s food computer sort of looked like a half-filled fish tank. Floating on the water, he had a sheet of Styrofoam with rows of little sprouts growing out of it. It’s hydroponic, which means the roots grow in nutrient rich water instead of in soil.

The sprouts that I saw were only a few days old, but James was proud to show me photos on his cellphone from past harvests. There were luscious leafy greens that were nearly overflowing the tank.

James O’Brien: This is the first successful harvest. We ate this for dinner once.

Emily Pontecorvo: Wow, and that takes about how long to get to that point?

James O’Brien: About 30 days, depending on how the growing conditions are, and how things are running and everything.

Emily Pontecorvo: So you have one food computer, about every 30 days you get a salad.

James O’Brien: True. I know It doesn’t seem like much. At this scale, a food computer is really meant for learning about it. It’s meant for sharing the experience and learning about the technology and learning about the growing.

Emily Pontecorvo: His mom was pretty pumped to share the experience too.

James’s mother: It was the best salad we ever had. It was really fun. You know, it’s almost as if life is coming full circle. My grandfather was a farmer from Ireland, who immigrated to the U.S. Now my son is getting back into that, and that’s a pretty cool full-life circle for us.

Emily Pontecorvo: James’s mom sees a circle, but the legacy of agriculture probably looks more like a tree with constant innovation branching out in every direction. Climate-controlled growing might have been new to James O’Brien, but it’s not exactly uncharted territory. Around the country, there are farms popping up in computerized warehouses and shipping containers that use the same basic technology as the food computer.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture even started giving loans to urban farmers to purchase things like LED lights instead of tractors. But with Caleb Harper’s food computer, it wasn’t just about breaking the chains of season and climate. Here’s one of Harper’s colleagues, Daniel Blake.

Daniel Blake: Everyone’s doing their own thing without talking to each other. Everyone’s operating in these black-box systems. So Caleb’s approached this from an open source, a tremendous amount of transparency. How can we create a common foundation that everyone can then innovate off of?

Emily Pontecorvo: The guys at MIT were like, OK, there are all these amazing, extremely controlled indoor farms. But the valuable data and information they’re gathering about growing food is being locked up as intellectual property. So Harper made his design and software free to download, so that people like James could build it in his basement.

He also established a database that anyone can access and contribute to. And all of it, the design, the software, the database, it’s all open source. People can play with it and improve on it. Here’s O’Brien again.

James O’Brien: When it’s open source, everybody works together all the time. It’s something that one person does, is shared usually, and people use it. And it benefits the entire community rather than benefiting one individual and their experience.

Emily Pontecorvo: So remember the climate settings on the food computer? The light, the temperature, the yeast, etc.? Think of those settings as a recipe for growing a specific plant. As people upload their recipes into the data base, it becomes like this master botanical cookbook for the modern world.

I logged on to the food computer online forum, and I saw users from everywhere. Dubai, New Zealand, London, Texas, they call themselves “nerd farmers.” And they’re actively helping each other, trading data and arranging meetups. Some of them are plant people and some are makers and some are parents and teachers. But these nerd farmers are invested. They’re partners to MIT. They’re helping to improve the design and scale it up.

So while the food computer might not be a new solution for agriculture, it is motivating this whole new group of people to get involved in the future of food.

Daniel Blake: But I think most importantly, it teaches you about how to grow plants. It gives you a relationship with food, which we think has huge implications for the world as a whole for everyone to better understand where our food comes from.

Emily Pontecorvo: Blake explained this idea further, when he gave a speech at the Change Food Festival last November.

Daniel Blake: We imagine a world where our food is no longer connected by planes, trains, and automobiles. And instead of shipping food, we are shipping data about our food, so that you can grow anything that you want anywhere that you want. That you could grow local from anywhere.

Emily Pontecorvo: And as for James O’Brien, he’s heading to the Cornell College of Agriculture next year to study environmental engineering. When I asked him if he wanted to try growing food the old-fashioned way, well, he’s having a lot more fun playing God.

James O’Brien: I want to see like, what if you built it bigger? What if you built it smaller? What if you changed this aspect of it? I’m really enjoying a lot being able to play with the technology to change the lives of the plants. The interplay between them is what I think is really fun.

Emily Pontecorvo: This story included Creative Commons music by Paddington Bear and Josh Spacek. Special thanks to Diane Hatz from the Change Food Festival for letting us play a clip from Daniel Blake’s speech. For Undark, I’m Emily Pontecorvo.

David Corcoran: And that’s all for this episode of Undark, a project of the Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT. Our show is produced by Katie Hiler; special thanks to Natalie Jones. We’ll be back next month with more news and interviews from the intersection of science and society. Until then, I’m David Corcoran for Undark.

This transcript has been updated to correct an error in the audio version of the podcast. Rotary became a partner in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in 1988, not 1998.