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Polio Across the Iron Curtain
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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.


‘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

‘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

'Vargha has crafted a brilliant study of disease, the Cold War, and the geopolitics of health at a crucial moment in world affairs as Hungary is pulled between East and West, socialism and capitalism, democracy and autocratic rule. This fascinating, richly-researched study reveals how deeply the national meaning of infantile paralysis was tied to global struggles over the fate of Eastern Europe … An impressive and important study of the Cold War’s impact and legacy on life, death, and health across this contested region.’

Keith Wailoo - Princeton University, New Jersey

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