Capturing an Oral History of the 1960s Smallpox Eradication Campaign in West Africa
The Task Force for Child Survival and Development produced an oral history of the smallpox eradication campaign in West Africa in the 1960s, at the behest of CDC officials who organized a 40th anniversary "Smallpox Pioneers Reunion."
- Project consultants interviewed 37 participants from the 19661970 West African smallpox eradication campaign.
- The project director organized a four-hour seminar featuring 10 speakers discussing lessons learned and the campaign's impact on the future of global health programs.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) provided $19,620 from June 2006 through December 2006 to support this unsolicited project.
In 1966, as part of the Intensified Global Smallpox Eradication Program, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) assembled a group of U.S. physicians, statisticians, mechanics, professors and other professionals to work with African governments to eradicate smallpox in West Africa.
This West African Campaign featured a shift from mass vaccination to a strategy called "surveillance and containment," according to the CDC. This strategy involved identifying people with smallpox and vaccinating everyone in the person's household as well as their close contacts. This strategy, which was later used in other countries and regions around the world, finally brought about the eradication of smallpox throughout the world by the end of 1977.
The experiences of the 19661970 smallpox eradication campaign in West Africa had never been documented. David J. Sencer, M.D., M.P.H., director of the CDC during the smallpox eradication campaign, and other CDC officials feared that the West African campaign's history would be lost unless the organization took action to preserve it.
The CDC officials organized a 40th anniversary "Smallpox Pioneers Reunion" at the CDC in Atlanta on July 1315, 2006, which approximately 60 people attended. To take advantage of the historic gathering, they asked the task force to sponsor the oral history project.
Members of the task force, a nonprofit organization promoting health and human development, had been involved in the smallpox program. Sencer served as project director.
The project director reported the following results to RWJF:
- Project consultants interviewed 37 participants from the 19661970 West African smallpox eradication campaign. They conducted most interviews (33) during the reunion, except for four nearby residents interviewed in advance to save time. They recorded the one-to-two hour interviews on audiotape and had them transcribed; they videotaped four interviews as well.
Representative from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), CDC and Emory University conducted the interviews. Representatives of the NOVA television program and WGBH, Boston's PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) station, participated in seven of the interviews in order to have copies of the interviews to keep in their archives.
- The project director organized a four-hour seminar featuring 10 speakers. Recorded on DVD, the seminar covered lessons learned and the campaign's impact on future global health programs.
- The project acquired more than 200 photographs of the West African Campaign from reunion participants.
AFTER THE GRANT
According to Sencer, Emory University is working to create a Web site that will make the interviews, seminar DVDs and photographs available to the public and is also archiving them for historical purposes.
GRANT DETAILS & CONTACT INFORMATION
Preparing an Oral History of Smallpox Eradication in West Africa
Task Force for Child Survival and Development (Decatur, GA)
Dates: June 2006 to December 2006
David J. Sencer, M.D., M.P.H.
Report prepared by: Margaret O. Kirk
Reviewed by: Angela Bonavoglia
Reviewed by: Robert Narus
Reviewed by: Molly McKaughan
Program Officer: Pamela G. Russo