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Event Report - The Creation & Expansion of the Worldwide Smallpox Eradication Programme

Posted on 9 April 2019

This installment of the GHH series focussed on the smallpox control programmes operating in the 1950s and 1960s, in China, Nepal, Brazil and India.

The world was declared free of smallpox in 1980, but the road to eradication was not a straightforward one or swift one. This was the key theme of Global Health Histories seminar 121, held on 28th March 1019, which sought to demonstrate a much longer, more complex history which deserves scrutiny. The seminar's presenters brought together insights based on diligent work in the archives, in multiple languages, to discuss the intriguing mechanisms behind earlier smallpox control and eradication programmes. Taken together, these presentations provided a fascinating, and wonderfully rich, account of an enormously significant topic in twentieth century health.  

The full recording of this event is now available on the Centre for Global Health Histories' YouTube channel. Split into two recordings, video one comprises the presentations and video two features the post-presentation Q&A with the audience and ensuing discussions.

CGHH PhD student Lu Chen opened the proceedings, exploring China’s role in the Worldwide Eradication of Smallpox between 1949 and 1980. In a fascinating account, Lu described how China achieved smallpox eradication in the face of a number of challenges, and argued for the importance of uncovering the untold stories, names, and unheard voices in the story of smallpox eradication.

Dr Sue Heydon then gave the audience a wonderfully detailed exploration of Nepal's Smallpox Control Pilot Project, arguing its importance for understanding the later stages of smallpox eradication. Sue’s presentation contained much important information and many fascinating insights, such as how, for instance, foreigners were locally valued, but had limited impact overall.

Dr Carlos Campani then discussed the creation and expansion of the smallpox eradication programme in Brazil. Carlos described how in the first half of 20th century smallpox gradually lost importance in Brazil as yellow fever and malaria were prioritized. This neglect meant difficulties in promoting mass vaccination in Brazil in the late ‘50s.

Dr Namrata Ganneri sought to re-evaluate the Indian National Smallpox Eradication Programme, outlining key features such as the strategy of mass vaccination and the creation of family registers, and gave a detailed account of how local attitudes were worked with.

Dr Godfrey Sikipa Hre (Health Ministry, Government of Zimbabwe)) then provided a summation and commentary to draw the presentations element to a close. This then led into an interesting question and answer session with audience, with the ensuing discussions drawing out further points for consideration.

We would like to extend heartfelt thanks to the speakers, audience, technicians (who facilitated both the live-streaming and recording of this event) and the Wellcome Trust for making this wonderful event possible. We will also look forward to hearing more from the speakers as their research develops.