Showing posts with label eradication of small pox. Show all posts
Showing posts with label eradication of small pox. Show all posts

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Get inspired - Edward Jenner, the great physician who invented Smallpox vaccine

I do not think Edward Jenner (1749 – 1823) needs any introduction.

He almost single-handedly popularized vaccination against Smallpox, a deadly and highly contagious disease of the yesteryears, that led to its total eradication from the world by 1979 - 80. It was the first disease that was eradicated completely by a combination of preventive measures, vaccination is an important tool and we achieved it in the year 1979! Just imagine, this great feat was accomplished before the advent of the internet and other sophisticated medical discoveries of the modern world.

Now, where do we stand? Why we were not able to eradicate any disease after the success with Smallpox and rinderpest?

We now have mind-boggling technologies and thrilling discoveries not only in the medical field but also in every field, all round developments have taken place. I decided to post this topic being driven by a recent post by Andrew, my blogger friend, about abandoned structures. On his blog,, he posted pictures of Renwick Smallpox hospital, an abandoned hospital, where Smallpox sufferers were once housed. The youngsters today are completely ignorant about the severity of this disease. It is like Chickenpox in a much severe form but the face is the body part that gets affected more and gets disfigured, ugly scars occur. Mortality is also high from respiratory complications, sometimes eyesight is lost because of the ulcers and in the olden times, there were no antiviral medicines to treat it. A natural cure was the norm and if the poor soul survives the bonus was lifelong immunity. And such people acted as caregivers to other new patients. The mortality rate was very high among children.

I have vague memories of being taken to a municipality preventive clinic in 1968 or so by my dad along with my sister to get vaccinated against Smallpox. In the clinic, multiple punctures were made with a bifurcated needle dipped in vaccine solution on the outer aspect of the left upper arm on two spots, one above and the other about 5 cm below it. There was mild pain and we were crying all the time but were restrained by dad. The reward for co-operating with this dreadful exercise was 'rose milk', sweetened cold milk with rose syrup added, a popular drink in the era prior to colas and other types of carbonated drinks in South India, which was available in a hotel by name 'Lakshminivas', nearby. The waiters wore white uniforms with frilled caps and the huge ceiling fans there had an egg-shaped bottom. Fond memories :) boy, that was the sweetest drink we ever had, no drink enjoyed later on in life from awesome restaurants in different parts of the world could replicate the same effect. The sweet taste buds of childhood!

The young generation will not be having vaccination scars of Smallpox, it was stopped in the USA in the 1970s itself.

Edward Jenner was aware that milkmaids were immune to Smallpox and he assumed it could be due to the immunity conferred to them from contracting cowpox that was a mild form of pox the cattle had. The practice of inoculation/variolation of pus to persons, who were willing to try it for prevention, from the lesions of Smallpox patients that made its entry to England from Turkey was also prevalent at that time. All these made Jenner believe in the effectiveness of vaccination. His trials finally gained acceptance among the medical community as well as the public after much ridicule and criticisms. This finally made the Government ban the crude practice of variolation and adopt vaccination by cowpox material formulated by Jenner for the prevention of Smallpox. But his lucrative medical practice suffered because of his work on Smallpox. He continued with his activities with grants from the British Government. He used to vaccinate the poor at his clinic. Finally, after suffering from a massive stroke he passed away in 1823. May his soul rest in peace!

Smallpox was considered as a curse from the Goddess in our place in the olden days. People used to conduct elaborate rituals to please the Goddess to avoid the wrath. Being a viral disease there was no medicinal cure those days, only prayers were the remedy hoping for a natural recovery. The situation was more or less the same, everywhere in the world, only the practices differed.

With the support of world leaders of that time, provision of funds, the willingness of people to try their best to eradicate this serious disease, an effective vaccine, lifelong immunity of people with no re-infection, all played in its eradication. Sadly, such collective and determined efforts are lacking nowadays. The only hope is Polio, which may get eradicated soon!

Did the world's focus and attitudes changed to cure and care, from prevention and eradication? Priority to allot funds shifted to much more profit-making ventures globally?
I would like to hear your views on this topic😊
  • No words can sufficiently portray efforts for humanitarian causes by great people. Their good deeds speak volumes about themselves. Let it all inspire us to do something, be it a simple thing, for the betterment of mankind.  
Visit this awesome site to learn more about this English Physician who saved millions of life on the planet !

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