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Greenlit: A Shot to Save the World, Smithsonian Channel

A Shot to Save the World (1 x 60′) – It was a disease that paralyzed America — a terrifying epidemic that shut down playgrounds, parks and public pools, while leaving tens of thousands of victims in wheelchairs, iron lungs… or dead. A vaccine, developed against all odds, gave new hope. And now a coalition of global health experts is determined to eradicate the disease from the planet.

This powerful documentary reveals the dramatic story behind one of the greatest feats of medical science, the development of the first polio vaccine. It features interviews with Bill Gates, who has made world polio eradication one of his main goals, with polio survivors and with members of Dr. Jonas Salk’s pioneering medical team. It is an extraordinary story that spotlights one of the most
remarkable examples of how much can be achieved when a nation—and a world– pulls together to defeat a common enemy.

It offers firsthand accounts from Salk’s University of Pittsburgh team. Biomedical pioneer Dr. Julius Youngner relates the battles that the controversial vaccine faced against the prevailing medical establishment. Nurse Jody Zogran recounts how medical students ran test vials to Salk’s basement lab. Former child patients describe how they offered their arms as “polio pioneers,” eventually leading to tests on 1.8 million American schoolchildren, the largest medical trial in human history.

By 1952, polio was one of the most serious communicable diseases in the U.S., permanently crippling more than 60,000 children a year. Salk and his team worked on their controversial “killed virus” vaccine in a tiny basement lab, three floors below a polio ward filled with kids in iron lungs. His work was privately funded, literally dime by dime, through the “Mother’s March” of the March of Dimes. It was an unprecedented public campaign and a seven-year battle against medical orthodoxy, lack of funds, and the virulent spread of the most terrifying disease in America.

Finally, on April 12, 1955, the Salk vaccine was declared “safe, potent, and effective,” and cameras captured the international jubilation of the announcement.

The film describes not only the struggle to create the Salk vaccine, but its extraordinary success. Five decades ago, polio was an American scourge. Today it is believed that there are only 250 cases left in the world. Polio was rampant in 125 endemic countries in 1988. Today it exists in just three; Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan, but the final stretch is often the hardest in these battles. Groups like The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Rotary International (which has raised more than $1 billion in a grass-roots campaign), the World Health Organization and Unicef are continuing the struggle
until the disease is finally eradicated.

It also reveals Bill Gates’ deep personal commitment to fighting polio. Gates, whose Foundation has recently committed $1.8 billion to the cause, reminds viewers that there is only one disease that has
been eradicated from this planet: smallpox. Gates believes that eradicating polio will boost infrastructure and confidence to go after other global health challenges. As Gates emphasizes, vaccines are the best investment people can make in public health. Even with polio on the brink of global eradication, the final push will not be easy.  The struggle to eradicate a killer, which began in a basement lab and now stretches around the world, won’t be fully won until polio is completely wiped from the Earth.

Channel: Smithsonian Channel

Producer: Steeltown Entertainment

TX: 24th October 2013

Source: Smithsonian Channel press release

Find out more about the development of this project on DocumentaryTelevision.com

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