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“’No Other Help Wins More Friends’: The Cold War, Decolonization, and the WHO Global Yaws Control Programme, 1944-52”

Thursday 10 May 2018, 2.00PM

Speaker(s): Deika Mohamed (University of Toronto, Canada)

Abstract: In 1946, the Interim Commission of the newly formed World Health Organization tasked the Committee on Priorities with creating a list of global endemic diseases and important international health concerns. While many urgencies were reported by the Committee, the Commission proposed to the First World Health Assembly three top disease priorities: malaria, tuberculosis, and venereal disease. The WHO did not launch a global disease control or eradication campaign for another four years, but when the time came, the disease of choice was not any of the top three priorities, nor did it exist in any preliminary discussions on other disease priorities. Indeed, when the First World Health Assembly convened in July 1948, there was no mention of the disease that would constitute the WHOs first global campaign. My paper examines the origins of the 1952-64 WHO Global Yaws Control Programme. I argue that the United States government played an instrumental role in the establishment of the WHO campaign to eliminate yaws in endemic regions of Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Drawing on a variety of sources, including records of the WHO, newspapers, and medical journals, I examine how the U.S. Public Health Service, U.S. Army Medical Department, and New York pharmaceutical giant Bristol Meyers collaborated to study the efficacy of patented fast-acting penicillin in treating yaws. The success of these measures was used to campaign members of the WHO to fund a worldwide yaws control programme in the form of resources and technical assistance. Many of the applicants were decolonizing states which formed new relations with the United States, such as Indonesia and Thailand, at a time when the United States placed health at the top of its international aid agenda.

Location: BS/008, Ground Floor, Humanities Research Centre, University of York

Admission: Free and open to all