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Bodies remember what they were done to them

Bodies remember what they were done to them

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. Chandrakant Pandav said that when he went into a village to try to convince the people to accept a smallpox vaccine he would often be met with resistance and reluctance.

“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.

He sang folk songs and answered patiently questions to gain informed consent. This was done both to restore trust and to slow the spread of smallpox.

To conclude the episode, host Céline Gounder speaks with the director of the global health program at the…

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