The Peace Corps’ Contributions to the Global Smallpox Eradication Program


The Peace Corps Office of Strategic Information, Research, and Planning (OSIRP) has completed and published a report on the role of Peace Corps Volunteers in eradicating the scourge of small pox.  It is an important historical survey and excellently done. It is a tribute to the work of Volunteers and  a Holiday Gift to the entire Peace Corps Community! The report concentrates on Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and Zaire, but acknowledges the work of Peace Corps Volunteers in all countries in the 60s and early 70s in eradicating this disease.  Here is a summary.  The link to the entire report follows.  Please read it.


“In 1966, the global burden of smallpox was estimated at 10 million cases and 2 million deaths per year. Global smallpox eradication, achieved in October 1977, required country-specific partnerships of national and international resources. As described in this report, Peace Corps and returned Peace Corps Volunteers contributed significantly to national eradication programs in more than 20 countries.

In three of these limited resource countries (Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and Zaire), Peace Corps Volunteers and their national partners made major and perhaps critical contributions to the achievement of smallpox eradication. Peace Corps scopes of work varied in these three countries. In Afghanistan, female Peace Corps teams were key to overcoming female cultural resistance to vaccination. In Ethiopia, where the government reported 722 smallpox cases, Peace Corps-Ethiopian national teams identified 26,000 smallpox cases in the first year. In Zaire, where the rural health system was barely functional, Peace Corps-Zaire teams were essential in establishing an effective surveillance and containment system.

This report captures in a unique way the logistic, epidemiologic, management, and cultural challenges of fieldwork. It also serves as an excellent resource for future generations of individuals considering the challenges, risks, and benefits of partnering with nationals in addressing developmental barriers to well-being.

A major institutional benefit of the Peace Corps smallpox program was the large number of Volunteers who chose public health as a career and went on to hold important public health leadership positions in the United States and globally.”

– Stanley O. Foster MD, MPH, OBN

CDC Smallpox Epidemiologist: Nigeria (1966–1970), Bangladesh (1972–1976), and Somalia (1977) Emeritus Professor of Global Health
Rollins School of Public Health

Emory University


Leave a comment
  • This is a good history. However, I noticed that Nigeria was completely left out?
    You may wish to include this because, not only it is true that history of Africa is incomplete without Nigeria but Nigeria actually played key role in small pox eradication in 1977.

  • Thank you so much for your comment and insight. It is important to note that this website is not an official Peace Corps site. We did post an evaluation Official Peace Corps had done. Of course, the eradication of small pox was a powerful example of nations cooperating together to defeat a horrible disease. Nigeria certainly was an important part.

    Here is the statement about this website:

    “Peace Corps Worldwide celebrates the Peace Corps experience by publishing stories from around the world by Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs), and Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs), to share with all who have a desire for international understanding.

    This effort is at the heart of the Third Goal of the Peace Corps — to “bring the world back home.” Publicizing the writings of RPCVs and PCVs, all their novels, short stories, essays and poetry is a positive way of educating Americans about the world, an essential Peace Corps Third Goal activity to provided a link between the cultures of the world and our culture.

    All work done for Peace Corps Worldwide is volunteer, and the site is in no way associated with the Peace Corps or the National Peace Corps Association.”

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