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National Library of Medicine Announces "Tropical Disease Motion Pictures"

Online Collection Features Films and Videos on Historic Battle against Tropical Disease

The National Library of Medicine, the world's largest medical library and a component of the National Institutes of Health, has produced a new digital collection, Tropical Disease Motion Pictures. The collection comprises 46 titles from the Library's collections that illustrate the battle against tropical disease. The materials range from research documentaries, interviews with noted scientists, and public health education campaigns, to films shot on location in regions beset by cholera, dengue fever, and yellow fever, demonstrating local and international efforts to curb their devastating impact. Produced between 1927 and 2007, the online content is a component of the Library's Digital Collections.

In the globalized economies of the 19th and early 20th centuries, Western societies came up sharply against the constraints imposed by tropical diseases. Cholera, malaria, yellow fever and other widespread diseases factored into the logic of empire: in war, commerce, and industry. Ambitious plans for global development were often thwarted by the burden of disease, with its attendant conditions of poverty, hunger, and loss of productivity. Through this collection, the western response to tropical disease is vividly shown, in multi-pronged campaigns of research, eradication, control, and education.

Among the titles presented are: 

  • Cholera Can Be Conquered (1946), produced by the US Navy. This film outlines the work of United States Navy Epidemiology Unit No. 50, which was sent to Calcutta, India, in early 1945 to determine the value of antibiotic therapy in the treatment of cholera.
  • Tropical Disease Investigations in Africa (1957), produced by the Laboratory of Tropical Diseases, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), with the cooperation of the health departments of Liberia, Belgian Congo, Mozambique, Kenya, and the Liberian Institute of the American Foundation for Tropical Medicine. The films show the etiology and treatment of four major tropical diseases in Africa: malaria, onchocerciasis (river blindness), trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) and schistosomiasis (snail fever).
  • Lucy Graves Taliaferro (1980), from the Workers in Tropical Medicine series, produced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in cooperation with the National Library of Medicine and the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. Dr. Taliaferro describes decades of collaboration with her husband, William Taliaferro, in the field of parasitology, studying the reactions that occur between parasites and hosts. 

As these films show, history is much more than the written word. The collection delivers powerful visual statements about the social, clinical, and political nature of tropical disease.

In addition to being found in the Library's Digital Collections, the audiovisuals may be accessed through the Library's online Guide to Tropical Disease Motion Pictures (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/collections/films/tropicalguide/index.html). That guide provides a short historical introduction and a bibliography to this collection. In addition, the Library's online catalog, LocatorPlus (http://locatorplus.gov/), provides access to the films by means of the catalog records of individual titles. Most of the audiovisuals in this digital collection are in the public domain, free of copyright, and may be used for any purpose; a few are used by permission of the copyright holder, from whom permission must similarly be obtained for any further use beyond "fair use." In addition, not all the Library's motion pictures in tropical disease and medicine will be digitized-even if listed in the Guide-as they remain under copyright protection.

Lucy Graves Taliaferro interviewed on her life's work in parasitology, from Lucy Graves Taliaferro, Sc.D., retired (1980).

Lucy Graves Taliaferro interviewed on her life's work in parasitology, from Lucy Graves Taliaferro, Sc.D., retired (1980).

The title shot from Tropical Disease Investigations in Africa (1957), produced by the Laboratory of Tropical Diseases, NIAID, with the cooperation of the health departments of Liberia, Belgian Congo, Mozambique, Kenya, and the Liberian Institute of the American Foundation for Tropical Medicine.

The title shot from Tropical Disease Investigations in Africa (1957), produced by the Laboratory of Tropical Diseases, NIAID, with the cooperation of the health departments of Liberia, Belgian Congo, Mozambique, Kenya, and the Liberian Institute of the American Foundation for Tropical Medicine. 

A warning placard displayed in the film Cholera Can Be Conquered (1946), produced by the US Navy and showing their research efforts with antibiotics in Calcutta in 1945.

A warning placard displayed in the film Cholera Can Be Conquered (1946), produced by the US Navy and showing their research efforts with antibiotics in Calcutta in 1945.

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