Inside Iowa State

Inside Archives

Submit news

Send news for Inside to, or call (515) 294-7065. See publication dates, deadlines.

About Inside

Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

October 7, 2005

Borlaug lecture features doctor who helped stop smallpox

by Linda Charles

Little did William Foege know that a shortage of smallpox vaccine in 1966 would help eradicate the disease just 13 years later.

Foege, former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, will speak at 8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 17, in the Memorial Union Sun Room. His talk is part of the Norman Borlaug lecture series.

As director of the disease control centers, Foege led the successful campaign to eradicate smallpox, using a selective targeting technique he and his colleagues pioneered in a remote area of eastern Nigeria.

According to a 2001 article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer Reporter, Foege, a medical missionary, was part of a group sent to deal with a smallpox outbreak in Nigeria. When they arrived, group members found they didn't have enough vaccine to conduct the mass inoculations that were standard practice at the time. Nor was there enough time to send for additional vaccine.

Foege and his colleagues decided to fight the epidemic by identifying all the known cases in the area, then determining the most likely routes of further transmission based on family relationships, transportation patterns and commerce. They radioed other missionaries in the area and asked them to send runners to every village to identify smallpox cases.

The group inoculated those living in the three most likely "hot zones." The approach worked, but did not catch on with the world health community.

When he became head of the smallpox eradication program for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Foege used the technique to combat a smallpox epidemic in India, where thousands were dying from the disease. India, which had the highest number of smallpox cases in the world, cut its smallpox incidents to zero within a year. The health community was sold on the approach, and in 1979, the World Health Organization declared smallpox had been eradicated.

Foege's talk at Iowa State is titled "Science and its Application." A reception and student poster display will precede the talk (7-8 p.m. in the South Ballroom).

William Foege


Borlaug lecture

  • 7-8 p.m., Reception and student poster display, South Ballroom, MU
  • 8 p.m., "Science and its Application," Sun Room, MU