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Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
October 2018
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Creative Common License - CC Creative Common License - BY Creative Common License - NC Creative Common License - ND
This content is Open Access and distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0

Book description

By the end of the 1950s, Hungary became an unlikely leader in what we now call global health. Only three years after Soviet tanks crushed the revolution of 1956, Hungary became one of the first countries to introduce the Sabin vaccine into its national vaccination programme. This immunization campaign was built on years of scientific collaboration between East and West, in which scientists, specimens, vaccines and iron lungs crossed over the Iron Curtain. Dóra Vargha uses a series of polio epidemics in communist Hungary to understand the response to a global public health emergency in the midst of the Cold War. She argues that despite the antagonistic international atmosphere of the 1950s, spaces of transnational corporation between blocs emerged to tackle a common health crisis. At the same time, she shows that epidemic concepts and policies were influenced by the very Cold War rhetoric that medical and political cooperation transcended. This title is also available as Open Access.


Winner, European Association for the History of Medicine and Health (EAHMH) Book Award, 2019

Winner, 2020 Medical Humanities Award, Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Wellcome Trust


Advance praise:‘Vargha makes a major contribution to historical studies on medicine and the Cold War by examining the fascinating interaction between new local, national and global actors. Her sound interpretations go beyond Hungary and Eastern Europe and illuminate how authority is constructed and contested in the relationship between patients and physicians and the key role of disease control programs in national modernization projects.'

Marcos Cueto - Casa de Oswaldo Cruz, Fiocruz, Rio de Janeiro

Advance praise:‘Polio Across the Iron Curtain is a superb study of the significance of disability for state and nation. Vargha's excellent history of Cold War medicine, technology, and public health reveals interstitial sites of cooperation and exchange in the shadow of the superpowers, thereby offering an important rethinking of the history of global health.'

Julie Livingston - New York University

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Full book PDF
  • Polio Across the Iron Curtain
    pp i-i
  • Global Health Histories - Series page
    pp ii-ii
  • Polio Across the Iron Curtain - Title page
    pp iii-iii
  • Hungary’s Cold War with an Epidemic
  • Copyright page
    pp iv-iv
  • Dedication
    pp v-vi
  • Contents
    pp vii-vii
  • List of Figures
    pp viii-viii
  • Acknowledgements
    pp ix-xii
  • Introduction
    pp 1-18
  • 1 - The Power of Polio
    pp 19-51
  • 2 - Iron Curtain, Iron Lungs
    pp 52-78
  • 3 - Unlikely Allies
    pp 79-112
  • 4 - Local Failure in a Global Success
    pp 113-146
  • 5 - Sabin Saves the Day
    pp 147-179
  • 6 - After the End of Polio
    pp 180-205
  • Conclusion: Eastern Europe in Global Health History
    pp 206-211
  • Archives and Collections
    pp 212-212
  • Interviewees
    pp 213-213
  • Bibliography
    pp 214-248
  • Index
    pp 249-254


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