The Peace Corps’ Work to Eradicate Smallpox

As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I get a free copy of WorldView, the magazine Peace Corps puts out. I read an interesting article in their spring issue I thought I would share. (All information is pulled from an article titled “The Eradicators,” by Patricia A. Wand. I summarize parts of the article. Any direct quotes will be in quotation marks.)

In 1966, the World Health Organization (WHO) wanted to eradicate smallpox, so it enlisted the help of the Peace Corps. “In 1966 an estimated 10-million people had smallpox and two million died from the disease.” Due to the efforts of the WHO and its partners, the last cases of smallpox were reported in 1971. (Kind of amazing that they made such a huge change in just five years.)

The Peace Corps’ Office of Strategic Information, Research and Planning released the following information in a report:

“During the 1960s in Afghanistan only males worked in health care and tradition dictated that men could not touch women and children outside their families. Following a pilot project with Peace Corps nurses in 1966, Peace Corps recruited and trained volunteers for women-only groups. These American women traveled with Afghan male health workers into the far reaches of the deserts and mountains to vaccinate rural and nomadic women and children. Local men, seeing the activity, often stepped up with arms ready for vaccination. The program reached far more people than expected. The volunteers helped devise a way for Afghans themselves to continue the program after 1970 by instructing women and girls to extend only one arm through the tent door so no identification took place.”

In addition to Afghanistan, Peace Corps Volunteers also served in smallpox eradication programs in Ethiopia, Malawi, Nigeria, Senegal, Swaziland, and Togo. (The full report is available online, if you search “Peace Corps Global Smallpox.”)

WorldView magazine is full of interesting stories related to the Peace Corps. I don’t know where you can get a copy in the United States, but it appears to be for sale, as it has a price marked in the corner. The spring issue largely focuses on the world wide refugee crisis and brings to light an interesting question — should Peace Corps Volunteers be placed in refugee camps? It draws comparison to smallpox eradication efforts, noting that Peace Corps has been recruited to partner with other organizations in the past.

WorldView magazine

 

 

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