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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 vaccinate anyone that individual might have come in contact with.

Search and containment looked great on paper. Implementing it on the ground took the leadership of someone who knew the ins and outs of public health in India.

Episode 2 of “Eradicating Smallpox” tells the story of Mahendra Dutta, an Indian physician and public health worker who used his political savvy and local knowledge to pave the way to eradication. Dutta’s contributions were vital to the eradication campaign, but his story has rarely been told outside India. 

To conclude the episode, host Céline Gounder and epidemiologist Madhukar Pai discuss “decolonizing public health,” a movement to put leaders from the most affected communities in the driver’s seat to make decisions about global health.

In conversation with host Céline Gounder:

  • Madhukar Pai
    Community medicine physician, professor of epidemiology and global health at McGill University in Montreal
    Twitter -

Voices from the episode:

  • Bill Foege
    Smallpox eradication worker, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Yogesh Parashar
    Pediatrician living in Delhi
  • Mahendra Dutta 
    Smallpox eradication worker, former health commissioner of New Delhi, India

Find a transcript of this episode here.

“Epidemic” is a co-production of KFF Health News and Just Human Productions.  

To hear other KFF Health News podcasts, click here.

Subscribe to “Epidemic” on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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