Emory Report
November 16, 2009
Volume 62, Number 11

30th Anniversary of Smallpox Eradication


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November 16, 2009
Global Health Chronicles
Heroes against disease

By Rebecca Badgett

In celebration of the 30th anniversary of the worldwide eradication of smallpox, Emory has launched the Global Health Chronicles, an online archive that documents the historic and successful battle that public health professionals waged against this deadly disease.

Many of the CDC disease experts who led the fight against smallpox in the 1960s were present for the archives’ public launch at Emory Oct. 26.

“Eradicating a disease is the ultimate in disease prevention; as smallpox is the one human infectious disease that has been completely eradicated there’s much to celebrate,” said former CDC director David Sencer. “The Global Health Chronicles site features oral histories of individuals who played a crucial role in that accomplishment. Today’s health professionals and students can hear and read of the passion these women and men brought to their work. This site will also be a valuable source of previously unknown material for historians.”

Materials collected in the online archive hosted by Emory University Libraries include previously unpublished field reports and pictures; oral histories of epidemiologists, operations officers, and their spouses and children who worked in 25 countries to stop the spread of smallpox; digitized books on the history of smallpox eradication; and seminars by the leaders of the global program to eradicate small pox.

The massive effort to collect and preserve the data in the Global Health Chronicles archive is a collaborative endeavor of Emory Libraries, the Emory Global Health Institute, the Rollins School of Public Health, the CDC, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The idea for the project was born while planning a 2005 reunion of CDC professionals who worked on smallpox control efforts in West Africa, said Sencer, who spearheaded the Global Health Chronicles project. When former CDC Director Bill Foege heard about the reunion, he suggested collecting the oral histories of these public health professionals’ experiences combating smallpox, Sencer said.

That idea led to initial funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which resulted in the collection of 29 oral histories, numerous photographs and other historical documents from CDC professionals working in West Africa. Another reunion was held in 2008, where oral histories and historical documents were collected from the CDC professionals who worked to eradicate smallpox in Southeast Asia.

“The Global Health Chronicles are a wonderful cross-generational resource because they provide insights about past work in public health that can inform the work of current public health professionals, as well as provide hope and incentive for those who want to work in public health in the future,” said Jeff Koplan, a former CDC director who is currently vice president of global health at Emory and director of the Emory Global Health Institute.