Smallpox Eradication in India, 1972-1977

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Smallpox recognition card

“The rapid eradication of smallpox from the place that was for many years the world’s principal endemic focus of the disease [i.e., India] has been singled out as one of the great victories in the history of public health: only twelve months separated a peak of more than 8,000 infected villages in May, 1974, and 188,000 cases in that year, from the last indigenous case in May, 1975. 

-- Dr. Larry Brilliant (1)

In 1966, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched a global campaign to eliminate smallpox, one of the most virulent and feared diseases in human history. Through the combination of intensive vaccination programs, disciplined surveillance methods, ongoing prevention efforts, and effective publicity, the Smallpox Eradication Program aimed to simultaneously educate populations and eliminate the disease. Because India is one of the most populous countries in the world and covers a large geographic area, it presented unique challenges to smallpox eradication.

This online exhibit highlights selected documents from a collection of materials donated to the University of Michigan Library by Dr. Lawrence Brilliant, a member of the WHO country team for India. The selected documents illustrate the evolution of the Smallpox Eradication Program in various states of India from 1972 until 1977. 

Curated by Nadia J. Lalla, Assistant Director, Collections and Information Services, Taubman Health Sciences Library, University of Michigan, and Marie Boissière, intern, Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Sciences de l'Information et des Bibliothèques (France)