Fri, 22 Sep 2023

BEIJING, June 2 (Xinhua) -- Children are often likened to "the flowers of the country" in China. There are people who devoted their lives to protecting these "flowers." Gu Fangzhou, who died in 2019, was one of them.

The virologist, also known as "the grandpa of sugar pill," was remembered for inventing a white-colored, sugar-coated pill that has helped China eradicate polio in 2000.

Polio is a debilitating and incurable disease that predominantly affects children below the age of seven.

In 1955, Chinese cities like Shanghai and Qingdao were ravaged by polio outbreaks, which left doctors, including Gu, helpless due to the lack of effective treatments.

This experience strengthened his resolve to develop the polio vaccine and save the future of Chinese children.

Two years later, Gu embarked on a lifelong research endeavor focused on this infectious disease, leading a team to build a laboratory for the development of a polio vaccine in a cave in Kunming, capital of southwest China's Yunnan Province.

When the vaccine entered the first phase of clinical trials, Gu demonstrated his commitment by personally ingesting a bottle of the vaccine solution to evaluate its effects. Later, he even vaccinated his newborn son to further prove the safety of the vaccine for children without telling his wife, exposing his own child to the potential risk of illness or even death.

"It doesn't make sense if I ask other children to be vaccinated while not allowing my own child to take the vaccine," Gu once said.

Fortunately, all participants of the clinical trial remained in good health after receiving the vaccine, which paved the way for the success of the researchers in their endeavors.

By the end of 1960, the first batch of 5 million doses of vaccines was introduced across 11 polio-stricken cities nationwide. The implementation of the vaccination program yielded positive results, as the polio outbreaks in these cities began to gradually diminish over time.

Despite the positive effects, the scientist remained motivated to continue his explorations as he found that it was difficult to store the vaccines for a long time and many children were reluctant to take vaccine potions.

After multiple trials, Gu and his team managed to transform the original liquid version of the polio vaccine into a more durable and acceptable type of sugar pills.

With the help of these sugar pills, in 1990, China began implementing its plan to eradicate polio across the country. A decade later, the then 74-year-old scientist signed his name on the report confirming the eradication of polio in China.

Gu, whose given name means "ark" in Chinese, diligently protected millions of Chinese children from the onslaught of the devastating disease.

"I have only achieved one thing in my life, which was this little sugar pill," Gu had said.

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