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NPR and KFF Well being Information Share the Story of Two Well being Heroes Who Helped Cease Smallpox

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KFF Health News’ editor-at-large for public health, Céline Gounder, and Regina G. Barber, host of NPR’s podcast “Shortwave,” team up to discuss the work of two public health workers who went to great lengths — sometimes traveling by speedboat to remote islands — to root out smallpox in Bangladesh.

Hear the full episode of “Speedboat Epidemiology” here — it’s Episode 4 of the latest season of the “Epidemic” podcast, “Eradicating Smallpox.”

Shahidul Haq Khan, a Bangladeshi health worker, and Tim Miner, an American with the World Health Organization, worked together on a smallpox eradication team in the early 1970s.

In a country packed with people and crisscrossed by rivers, squashing the virus required tactics specific to each local community: its needs, its culture, its worries and terrain.  

But New York University microbiologist Joe Osmundson said public health leaders have an uneven track record applying these lessons today: “We know what the problems are and yet we seem reluctant to actually do the right thing, which is to build processes that meet people where they’re at.”

Osmundson was a community liaison for the New York City health department and helped coordinate responses to the mpox outbreak in summer 2022. That initiative used mobile vans to improve health equity and reach people at highest risk of contracting the disease.

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