Cold War Triangle: How Scientists in East and West Tamed HIV

Renilde Loeckx. Cold War Triangle: How Scientists in East and West Tamed HIV. Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2017. 192 pp. $29.50 (paper), ISBN 978-946270113-7.

Reviewed by Dora Vargha (University of Exeter) Published on H-Diplo (February, 2019) Commissioned by Seth Offenbach (Bronx Community College, The City University of New York)

Cross-posted from H-Diplo

Printable Version: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=53143

Renilde Loeckx’s Cold War Triangle tells the story of an international scientific collaboration across the iron curtain that led to the development of HIV blockbuster drugs such as Viread and Truvada. It is as much a story of Cold War collaboration among scientists, as a story of collaboration between scientific institutions and pharmaceutical companies. In her introduction, Loeckx, a former ambassador of Belgium, sets out to bridge diplomacy and science to tell the story of Antonín Holy and Erik Le Clercq: the collaboration of a Czechoslovak and Belgian scientist with the American pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences. As Loeckx writes, the book is “about the human face of science, how scientists from three different cultures collaborated to create the complex drugs that saved millions of lives” (p. 15). Continue reading “Cold War Triangle: How Scientists in East and West Tamed HIV”

“There is no Cold War”: global networks in polio vaccine research

Dora Vargha
University of Exeter

When not portrayed as a heroic struggle for the betterment of mankind, polio vaccine development has mostly been told as a story of bitter rivalry between Salk and Sabin. It has also been recounted as a particular “American Story”, with the March of Dimes, the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis with the occasional mention of the Sabin trials in the Soviet Union. Historical narratives of polio have rarely crossed national borders, even though polio is undisputedly seen as a global health issue today.

But if we step outside of the national boundaries and shift our perspective from an American view, another story of polio unfolds. It reveals that polio as a global health issue is not a recent phenomenon, but one that reaches back to the late 1940s and early 1950s. It sheds light on a global network of scientists and public health officials, who set in motion global vaccine trials in the 1950s and 60s. Against a backdrop of Cold War tensions and the remnants of the colonial world, the personal networks of researchers intertwined with the emergence of the World Health Organization (WHO) in the development of live poliovirus vaccines. The international agency capitalized on the network of scientists to become a coordinating, validating and standardizing entity, while researchers used the WHO to establish further ties, get access to cutting-edge technology, or to free vaccines in public health emergencies. Continue reading ““There is no Cold War”: global networks in polio vaccine research”

Windrush scandal: a historian on why destroying archives is never a good idea

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Sanwal Deen/Unsplash

Dora Vargha
University of Exeter

Archival practices rarely make headlines. Databases are sexy, archives less so – at least for most people. Whenever we do read about archives, it’s almost exclusively in the context of something disappearing. Apparently, we never know a good thing until it’s gone.

Most recently, it transpired that the Home Office apparently destroyed Windrush landing cards eight years ago. These, it now seems, were crucial documents in establishing the legal status of Caribbean-born residents who arrived in the 1950s and 1960s. The question of exactly who is to take the blame for this action remains under debate.

This is not the first time the government has had to admit to this kind of practice. A few months ago the Foreign Office admitted to its role in key documents “disappearing” from the National Archives. Among them were papers on the colonial administration of Palestine, the Falklands, Northern Ireland’s Troubles and a score of other sensitive issues.

It’s unclear why the landing cards were destroyed. The Home Office says the decision was taken on data protection grounds and that does seem to be a valid argument. Of course, that argument, too, can be, and frequently is, abused. Continue reading “Windrush scandal: a historian on why destroying archives is never a good idea”