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Beyond a 'Sanitized' History

Rajib Dasgupta

By Sanjoy Bhattacharya
Orient Longman, New Delhi, 2006, pp. xv 327, Rs. 750.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 10 October 2006

This book is an outcome of a research project of the Wellcome Trust History of Medicine awarded to Professor Michael Worboys and Dr. Mark Harrison in which the author was a key researcher. Smallpox eradication (National Smallpox Eradication Programme—NSEP, is showcased and taught as a textbook case of disease eradication; it has fuelled aspirations for eradication of more communicable diseases, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) being the current one. The author explores and elucidates numerous behind-the-scene events and processes of the smallpox eradication and this book is a sequel to the earlier volume Fractured States: Smallpox, Public Health and Vaccination Policy in British India, 1800-1947. This volume deals with the next (and final) stage spanning from 1947 to 1977.   There are several publications by public health personnel who have been associated with the eradication programme that have generally dealt with the more technical aspects dubbed as “sanitised descriptions” by the author. This volume has gone beyond that framework of official history that have by and large documented the last phase. A far broader perspective has been adopted dealing with a wide range of factors and processes. This treatise on “nuanced history” of the eradication programme has been reconstructed by accessing a large cache of previously unanalysed archival material and private papers; these have been further enriched with interviews with several public health stalwarts who held key positions in the programme. It has examined the evolution of health services and immunization policies across the three decades, particularly, in the aftermath of Independence and Partition when the nascent state was carving out its own policy with a strong welfarist approach. What has been elucidated excellently are the multiple strands in the decision making processes both at central and state levels with international and resource considerations in the background.   It traces the history of the programme in three phases – that of programme formulation and design (1947-59), expansion of the programme across a large country with heterogeneous conditions (1960-68) and the final phase (1969-77). Across all the three phases, a consistent methodology has been adopted drawing upon archival and published material. The author has fascinatingly demonstrated that a programme is not a monolithic and straitjacketed structure but is an organized complexity which is a heady cocktail of policy initiatives and implementation strategies with individual perceptions and considerations (of key players) playing significant roles in giving a strategy a final operational shape. The volume has ...

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