EPIDEMIC with Dr. Celine Gounder

EPIDEMIC with Dr. Celine Gounder

Eradicating Smallpox: The Heroes that Wiped out a 3,000-Year-Old Virus One of humanity’s greatest triumphs is the eradication of smallpox. This new eight-episode docuseries, “Eradicating Smallpox,” explores this remarkable feat and uncovers striking parallels and contrasts to recent history in the shadows of the covid-19 pandemic. Host Céline Gounder brings decades of experience working on HIV in Brazil and South Africa, Ebola during the outbreak in New Guinea, and covid-19 in New York City at the height of the pandemic. She travels to India and Bangladesh to bring never-before-heard stories from the front lines of the battle to wipe smallpox off the face of the Earth. “Epidemic” launched in early 2020 and quickly became a key source of reporting on the rapidly unfolding coronavirus pandemic. The show premiered at No. 1 in health and fitness and No. 1 in medicine on the Apple Podcast charts.


November 7, 2023 16 mins

In 1975, smallpox eradication workers in the capital of Bangladesh, Dhaka, rushed to a village in the south of the country called Kuralia. They were abuzz and the journey was urgent because they thought they just might be going to document the very last case of variola major, a deadly strain of the virus. 

When they arrived, they met a toddler, Rahima Banu.

She did have smallpox, and five years later, in 1980, when the World Health O...

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The 1970s was the deadliest decade in the “entire history of Bangladesh,” said environmental historian Iftekhar Iqbal. A deadly cyclone, a bloody liberation war, and famine triggered waves of migration. As people moved throughout the country, smallpox spread with them.

In Episode 7 of “Eradicating Smallpox,” Shohrab, a man who was displaced by the 1970 Bhola cyclone, shares his story. After fleeing the storm, he and his family settl...

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Global fears of overpopulation in the ’60s and ’70s helped fuel India’s campaign to slow population growth. Health workers tasked to encourage family planning were dispatched throughout the country and millions of people were sterilized: some voluntarily, some for a monetary reward, and some through force. 

This violent and coercive campaign — and the distrust it created — was a backdrop for the smallpox eradication campaign happeni...

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September 26, 2023 24 mins

In spring 1974, over a dozen smallpox outbreaks sprang up throughout the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. Determined to find the source of the cases, American smallpox eradication worker Larry Brilliant and a local partner, Zaffar Hussain, launched an investigation.

The answer: Each outbreak could be traced back to Tatanagar, a city run by one of India’s largest corporations, the Tata Group.

When Brilliant arrived at the Tatanagar Rai...

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At noon ET on Thursday Sept. 14, Epidemic host Céline Gounder and her guests will come together for a live web event. Click here to register for the event.

In Conversation With Host Céline Gounder:

Helene D. Gayle, a physician and an epidemiologist, is president of Spelman College. She is a board member of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and past director of the foundation’s program on HIV, tuberculosis, and reproductive health. ...

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August 29, 2023 21 mins

Shahidul Haq Khan, a Bangladeshi health worker, and Tim Miner, an American with the World Health Organization, worked together on a smallpox eradication team in Bangladesh in the early 1970s. The team was based on a hospital ship and traveled by speedboat to track down cases of smallpox from Barishal to Faridpur to Patuakhali. Every person who agreed to get the smallpox vaccination was a potential outbreak averted, so the team was ...

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August 15, 2023 18 mins

In 1973, Bhakti Dastane arrived in Bihar, India, to join the smallpox eradication campaign. She was a year out of medical school and had never cared for anyone with the virus. She believed she was offering something miraculous, saving people from a deadly disease. But some locals did not see it that way.

Episode 3 of “Eradicating Smallpox” explores what happened when public health workers — driven by the motto “zero pox!” — encounte...

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August 1, 2023 24 mins

By the mid-1970s, India’s smallpox eradication campaign had been grinding for over a decade. But the virus was still spreading beyond control. It was time to take a new, more targeted approach.

This strategy was called “search and containment.” Teams of eradication workers visited communities across India to track down active cases of smallpox. Whenever they found a case, health workers would isolate the infected person, then vaccin...

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July 18, 2023 22 mins

In the mid-’60s, the national campaign to eradicate smallpox in India was underway, but the virus was still widespread throughout the country. At the time, Dinesh Bhadani was a small boy living in Gaya, a city in the state of Bihar. In his community many people believed smallpox was divine, sent by the Hindu goddess Shitala Mata. In Bihar people had misgivings about accepting the vaccine because, Bhadani says, they did not want to ...

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"Eradicating Smallpox” is a journey to South Asia, the site of the last days of variola major smallpox. Many epidemiologists and global health leaders thought that ending smallpox was impossible. They were wrong. Dedicated public health workers made it happen.

“Eradicating Smallpox” is an eight-episode, limited series amplifying their voices.

Host Céline Gounder, a physician and epidemiologist, traveled to India and Bangladesh, and h...

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In the years leading up to the pandemic, Dr. Celine Gounder, the host of the EPIDEMIC and American Diagnosis podcasts, had the opportunity to care for patients part-time at several Indian Health Service facilities around the United States. Working on the “rez,” one theme came up over and over: resilience.

In this latest season of American Diagnosis, we’re going to share stories of Indigenous people who are taking action to protect t...

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"It's a really interesting question: how do we get closure in this pandemic?  I think a lot of people have hurt and loss that's not been acknowledged. I think acknowledging that loss is very important." - Andy Slavitt

In this final episode of season 1 of EPIDEMIC, we look back on the coronavirus pandemic and how we can move forward with one of our first guests, Andy Slavitt, who was President Biden’s Senior Advisor on COVID-19. Then...

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"Pregnant women who have SARS-CoV-2 are more likely to be admitted to the ICU, to need a ventilator  and are more likely to die than women of the same age who are not pregnant. Pregnancy definitely makes getting COVID-19 much more dangerous." -Andrea Edlow

Some of the most persistent myths about coronavirus and the vaccines developed to fight it have to do with women's health. In this episode, we'll hear about the latest science whe...

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"The pandemic has given us an opportunity to finally change this and if we don't, the economic impact from the fallout of women in the workforce is going to be devastating." -Erika Moritsugu

The pandemic has upended caregiving and what it means to be a working mom. More than 2 million women have left the workforce because of the cost and effort of caring for children and older family members during the pandemic. In this episode of E...

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"When you're building a system like a vaccine passport you're potentially excluding millions of people because they don't have this thing that once was optional, but has now become indispensable." -Albert Fox Cahn

How do you let people who are fully vaccinated get back to normal life without creating super-spreader events for those who haven’t yet been vaccinated? Some are calling for vaccine certification programs that could hopefu...

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"You can't fight scarcity with scarcity. The only way out of the vaccine problem is by making a lot more of it." -James Krellenstein

India is the world's largest supplier of vaccines but the government there suspended the export of all COVID-19 vaccines after a devastating outbreak this spring. This is just the latest reason why global health leaders are calling for a new, decentralized approach to vaccine manufacturing around the w...

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"It's a triumph of science and engineering that we now have multiple effective COVID vaccines. We just need to find the political will to invest a bit more money and deploy them around the world." -Chris Morten

President Joe Biden said the United States would be the world's "arsenal of vaccines" but critics say current plans to donate 80 million doses around the world are not enough. Instead, countries like India and South Africa ar...

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"They benefit from traffic no matter if it's good information or malignant misinformation. " -Imran Ahmed

During the pandemic, disinformation campaigns have been targeting people of color with lies like African Americans can't get COVID or denying the pandemic is even real. In this episode, we’re going to hear more about how these disinformation networks are gaming social media algorithms. We'll hear how the United States has become...

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"What we really need to be doing is not belittle people. Don't wag your finger at them. Don't make them feel stupid or small for not having gotten the vaccine yet. Talk to them about why it's safe." - Gov. Chris Christie

Conservatives have emerged as the group least likely to say they’ll get vaccinated. Getting more conservative Americans comfortable with the vaccines will be needed to control the pandemic as national vaccination ra...

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"Disinformation is a deliberate falsehood put out to mislead an audience. But what we see more of are true bits of information where necessary context has been removed or manipulated in a way that makes it technically true but wildly misleading." -Bret Schafer 

In this episode of EPIDEMIC, we’re going to look at disinformation during the pandemic. Specifically, we’re going to look at how the Russian government and far-right militias...

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