50 Years of NHK Television

Protecting children: outbreak of polio
In March 1960, an outbreak of polio occurred in Hokkaido in northern Japan, centering on the coal-mining town of Yubari. NHK and commercial broadcasting stations told fearful local parents not to evacuate their children to other places and reported on the outbreak in detail. At the time, Hokkaido only had one iron lung for the use of people with breathing difficulties. The U.S. Consul, learning of this on TV, authorized an emergency shipment of four more from the United States to Chitose Airport. That year, there were 1,602 polio cases in Hokkaido and 5,606 nationwide, with 317 fatalities. The following March, a further outbreak of polio occurred in Kumamoto Prefecture in southern Japan.
NHK established a "Polio Team" in its Current Affairs News Section and launched a campaign to eradicate the disease, with stations around the country broadcasting daily updates. An effective vaccine existed in the USSR but was not authorized for use in Japan. Information gathered and broadcast by NHK was instrumental in prompting the Health and Welfare Ministry to reverse its stance and arrange for the emergency import of enough vaccine for 13 million people in mid-June. This led to a 50% drop in infections the following year, 1961 (2,436 cases and 169 fatalities), and after 1963 there were almost no further outbreaks. The campaign was an impressive example of what TV could do, and what a catalyst it could be for society.
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