Submitted by Jonathan Hale
Deputy Assistant Administrator for Europe & Eurasia
Today, I am back in Moscow. The Russian government has already made significant contributions to stopping the polio outbreak in Central Asia. Now we are exploring opportunities for further U.S.-Russian collaboration on this issue to work toward ending polio once and for all. I met with Dr. Mikhail Mikhailov, Director of the M.P. Chumakov Institute of Poliomyelitis and Viral Encephalitis. We were joined by the Institute’s Deputy Director, Evgeniy Tkachenko, and some of our USAID Health Office staff to discuss U.S.-Russia collaboration on the response to the polio outbreak in Central Asia.
As Dr. Mikhailov asked me to sign the Institute’s 50-year old guest book, I was struck by the long history of cooperation between its Russian scientists and our own American scientists. In the late 1950s, Dr. Albert Sabin, the American scientist who would later become famous for developing the oral polio vaccine (OPV), needed more subjects for his vaccine clinical trials since earlier polio vaccines had been used so extensively in the United States.
Although this period marked the height of the Cold War, Dr. Sabin was allowed to conduct massive clinical trials in the Soviet Union, working with Dr. M.P. Chumakov, founder of the Institute. In the first five months of 1959, ten million children in the Soviet Union received the Sabin oral vaccine. Shortly after, the Institute began manufacturing OPV for internal and international use. Later, Dr. Sabin would receive a medal of gratitude from the Soviet Union – one of the only Americans to do so. I hope more Americans can learn about this longtime U.S.-Russian cooperation that has literally saved millions of lives around the world.
Today, as Americans and Russians explore new ways to once again fight polio – this time in Central Asia – I look forward to deepening our collaboration with the Polio Institute and the Ministry of Health on this in the coming months.