The End of a Global Pox: America and the Eradication of Smallpox in the Cold War Era

The End of a Global Pox: America and the Eradication of Smallpox in the Cold War Era

The End of a Global Pox: America and the Eradication of Smallpox in the Cold War Era

The End of a Global Pox: America and the Eradication of Smallpox in the Cold War Era

Synopsis

By the mid-twentieth century, smallpox had vanished from North America and Europe but continued to persist throughout Africa, Asia, and South America. In 1965, the United States joined an international effort to eradicate the disease, and after fifteen years of steady progress, the effort succeeded. Bob H. Reinhardt demonstrates that the fight against smallpox drew American liberals into new and complex relationships in the global Cold War, as he narrates the history of the only cooperative international effort to successfully eliminate a disease.

Unlike other works that have chronicled the fight against smallpox by offering a "biography" of the disease or employing a triumphalist narrative of a public health victory, The End of a Global Pox examines the eradication program as a complex exercise of American power. Reinhardt draws on methods from environmental, medical, and political history to interpret the global eradication effort as an extension of U.S. technological, medical, and political power. This book demonstrates the far-reaching manifestations of American liberalism and Cold War ideology and sheds new light on the history of global public health and development.

Excerpt

In June 2001, Andrews Air Force Base hosted an unusual role-playing game that featured a surprising lead actor. Developed by the Johns Hopkins Center for Civilian Biodefense Studies, the two-day exercise, called Operation Dark Winter, meant to test U.S. preparedness for a major “biological attack on the American homeland.” Participants brought their backgrounds in politics, the military, and medicine to play different roles in the exercise; among them were retired senator Sam Nunn, who became, for a day, the president of the United States (very likely fulfilling a lifelong fantasy); Dr. Margaret Hamburg, assistant secretary for planning and evaluation at the Department of Health and Human Services, who became full secretary for the exercise; and Oklahoma governor Frank Keating, joining the exercise as himself. As participants settled into their roles and their seats on the mock National Security Council (NSC), they received a variety of memos and briefings updating them on the current global situation: escalating tensions in the Taiwan Strait and on the Iraq/ Kuwait border, reports of bioweapons production in Iraq, and news that Russia had recently arrested a “suspected senior lieutenant of Usama bin Laden” for attempting to acquire both plutonium and biological weapons from the now-dissolved ussr. the Iraq/Kuwait border crisis should have dominated the nsc meeting, but President Nunn had just informed participants of something unimaginable: smallpox, a disease ostensibly eradicated from the world in 1977, had reappeared in Oklahoma.

One hour before the meeting, Secretary of Health and Human Services Hamburg told the president that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had confirmed the presence of smallpox in Oklahoma . . .

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