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01.12.2014 | Original Paper | Ausgabe 6/2014

Journal of Community Health 6/2014

Smallpox Inoculation (Variolation) in East Africa with Special Reference to the Practice Among the Boran and Gabra of Northern Kenya

Zeitschrift:
Journal of Community Health > Ausgabe 6/2014
Autoren:
Pascal James Imperato, Gavin H. Imperato

Abstract

Smallpox inoculation (variolation) was widely reported in sub-Sahara Africa before, during, and after the colonial era. The infective smallpox materials and techniques used, as well as the anatomical sites for inoculation, varied widely among different ethnic groups. The practice among the Boran and Gabra pastoralists of northern Kenya resembled that which was prevalent in a number of areas of Ethiopia. This is not surprising as the Boran also live in southern Ethiopia, and Gabra herdsmen frequently cross the border into this region. The Boran and Gabra technique for smallpox inoculation consisted of taking infective material from the vesicles or pustules of those with active smallpox, and scraping it into the skin on the dorsum of the lower forearm. Although the intent was to cause a local reaction and at most a mild form of smallpox, severe cases of the disease not infrequently resulted. Also, variolated individuals were capable of infecting others with smallpox, thereby augmenting outbreaks and sustaining them. The limited known reports of smallpox inoculation among the Boran and Gabra are presented in this communication. The expansion of vaccination with effective heat stable vaccines, the development of medical and public health infrastructures, and educational programs all contributed to the eventual disappearance of the practice among the Boran and Gabra.

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