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