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Global Health 'Blunders' Can Lend Useful Lessons

New York Times reporter Lawrence Altman recounts his experience in the mid-1960s with a measles immunization campaign in Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) during his time with the Epidemic Intelligence Service of the CDC in a “Doctor’s World” perspective piece in the newspaper. Altman says that although the effort to expand the immunization campaign from a small field trial to a regional program “failed miserably,” the “lessons learned from these blunders led to a new program that wiped out smallpox, still the only human disease to have been eradicated from the planet.”

“In the 1960s, international aid programs were far less common than they are today,” Altman writes, adding, “Now, medical professionals are devoting careers to global health, and students commonly volunteer for overseas programs, sometimes for academic credit. Yet despite many proposals, the United States has not created a medical Peace Corps to help improve the health of people in poor countries. A greater effort to provide clean water, better sanitation and immunizations would be one of the finest ways for this country to make friends around the world” (9/26).