Bhakti Dasante arrived in Bihar (India) in 1973 to help with the campaign against smallpox. She had just graduated from medical school, and she’d never treated anyone infected with the virus. She believed that she was saving people’s lives from a deadly virus. Locals, however, did not agree.
Episode 3 of “Eradicating Smallpox” explores what happened when public health workers — driven by the motto “zero pox!” — encountered hesitation. They wanted to reach 100% vaccination as quickly as possible. Fueled by that urgency, their tactics were sometimes aggressive — and sometimes, crossed the line.
“I learned about being overzealous and not treating people with respect,” said Steve Jones, another eradication worker based in Bihar in the early ’70s.
To close out the episode, host Céline Gounder speaks with NAACP health researcher Sandhya Kajeepeta about the reverberations of using coercion to achieve public health goals. Kajeepeta’s work documents inequities in the enforcement of covid-19 mandates in New York City.