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 happening simultaneously in India. When smallpox eradication worker Chandrakant Pandav entered a community hoping to persuade people to accept the smallpox vaccine, he said he was often met with hesitancy and resistance.
“People's bodies still remember what was done to them,” said medical historian Sanjoy Bhattacharya.
Episode 6 of “Eradicating Smallpox” shares Pandav’s approach to mending damaged relationships.
To gain informed consent, he sat with people, sang folk songs, and patiently answered questions, working both to rebuild broken trust and slow the spread of smallpox.
To conclude the episode, host Céline Gounder speaks with the director of the global health program at the Council on Foreign Relations, Thomas Bollyky. He said public health resources might be better spent looking for ways to encourage cooperation in low-trust communities, rather than investing to rebuild trust.
In Conversation With Host Céline Gounder:
Voices From the Episode:
Find a transcript of this episode here.
“Epidemic” is a co-production of KFF Health News and Just Human Productions.
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