New Online Exhibit: Smallpox Eradication in India, 1972-1977

Report Smallpox

“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

It’s amazing what you find when you have to move “stuff” out of a building that you’ve occupied for over 30 years.   Last December, as we were madly packing boxes prior to the start of the Taubman Health Sciences Library renovation, we emptied out closets and storage areas.  I came across several boxes of materials of unknown content.    The boxes were labelled “Brilliant Collection” and looked “oldish”.  Since I was in cleaning mode (and on a deadline), I decided I would empty these boxes, repack the items in sturdier boxes, and put the whole thing back into storage.  I estimated it would take me about 90 minutes to do this.   Then I opened the first box.

Five months later, our online exhibit, Smallpox eradication in India, 1972-1977,   showcases some of the documents that I found.  The exhibit tells the story of the World Health Organization’s extraordinary global campaign to end naturally occurring smallpox in India.    The content is drawn from the collection of materials donated by Dr. Larry Brilliant, a member of the World Health Organization team which was charged with this massive effort.   The Brilliant Collection includes primary source documents such as disease surveillance reports, raw data on containment procedures for infected regions, multi-lingual training materials for native-born health workers, briefing documents, marketing posters, and lots of epidemiological data.     We’re still processing the materials and expect to have these documents available for public use later this year.  In the meantime, think of the exhibit as a teaser.

Today, students from our Medical School’s Class of 2014 will graduate.  Their commencement speaker is Dr. Lawrence Brilliant.

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