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Polio Across the Iron Curtain
Hungary's Cold War with an Epidemic


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Part of Global Health Histories

  • Date Published: January 2021
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781108431019

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About the Authors
  • 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.

    • Entwines histories of international organizations, national politics, diplomacy, medicine, scientific networks and patient experiences
    • Presents a new geographical focus that enriches the history of global public health
    • Explores Cold War interaction and collaboration between East and West
    • This title is also available as Open Access
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    • Winner, European Association for the History of Medicine and Health (EAHMH) Book Award, 2019

    Reviews & endorsements

    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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    Product details

    • Date Published: January 2021
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781108431019
    • length: 266 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 14 mm
    • weight: 0.364kg
    • contains: 8 b/w illus.
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. The power of polio
    2. Iron Curtain, iron lungs
    3. Unlikely allies
    4. Local failure in a global success
    5. Sabin saves the day
    6. After the end of polio
    Conclusion: Eastern Europe in global health history.

  • Author

    Dóra Vargha, University of Exeter
    Dóra Vargha is Lecturer in Medical Humanities at the University of Exeter. Her research has been awarded the J. Worth Estes Prize by the American Association for the History of Medicine, and the Young Scholar Book Prize by the International Committee for the History of Technology.


    • 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

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