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|Title:||Epidemics Without Borders: Divided Germany, the Fight Against Poliomyelitis, and Cold War International Relations, 1945-1965|
|Keywords:||poliomyelitis;medical history;Cold War;international relations|
|Abstract:||On the first day of August in 1961, the Health Ministry of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) announced the closure of the German-German border permanently, accusing the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) of neglecting its citizens and failing to properly administer vaccinations against poliomyelitis.1 This accusation sparked the ire of the West German and United States media, and the Federal Republic denied that there were outbreaks. The episode raises questions about common perceptions of healthcare in East Germany. The thought that East Germany might have an epidemic disease under control, which still caused problems in West Germany, contradicts the perception that East Germany lagged behind its western neighbor in every realm. While recent histories of international relations and healthcare emphasize collaboration between the US and the USSR, and their Cold War allies in this period, this dissertation presents a less constructive relationship. Despite the shared goal of polio control and eradication, East and West Germany used epidemic control as evidence of the successes of one system of healthcare governance, or the faults of the opponent’s system. The Berlin Wall announcement was the culmination of almost 15 years of government competition, speckled with individual collaboration, in the field of healthcare. This dissertation contributes to literature on healthcare in divided Germany, narratives which present the history of polio as an “American story,” and scholarship on healthcare and international relations. It shows how two separate healthcare systems were 1 “East Germany Curbs Travel: Blames Polio,” Chicago Tribune, 1 August 1961, 11. v constructed by Soviet and American occupiers with German collaborators between 1945 and 1947. These separate systems, established before the official division of Germany, laid the foundation for two separate states. During the first postwar polio epidemic in 1947, the United States showed its affluence and experience with polio through a robust response centered on technological solutions. The USSR, conversely, could not match the United States’ response due to inexperience with polio and lack of economic resources, garnering criticism from German citizens and US occupiers. In 1955, the introduction of Jonas Salk’s injected polio vaccine gave doctors and civilians in the US hope that polio would soon be a memory, but European responses were much more ambiguous. Albert Sabin’s forthcoming oral polio vaccine appeared to be a much more promising option to many physicians due to its ease of administration and cost-effectiveness. When Sabin chose to field test his vaccine in the USSR, his decision to collaborate with the US’s Cold War opponent demonstrated significant potential for collaboration. Nonetheless, the Soviet connections of Sabin OPV led to a crisis in divided Berlin. The history of polio is not an American story and recognizing the ways in which the fight against this disease went beyond the national, complicated by political boundaries but involving recognizable collaboration across those boundaries, helps expand the historical narrative of poliomyelitis. While vaccine diplomacy was indeed a form of soft power used in the context of the Cold War, promises of vaccines were not always received without question, and incorporating a deeper examination of recipient countries’ discourses helps complicate our understandings of diplomacy and hesitancy.|
|Appears in Collections:||Open Access Dissertations and Theses|
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