Women, Children, and Citizenship in UNICEF's Global Anti-Syphilis Campaign, 1946–79

Monday, January 5, 2009: 9:30 AM
Lenox Ballroom (Sheraton New York)
Jennifer Morris , College of Mount St. Joseph, Cincinnati, OH
In 1945, a small group of international philanthropists and public health practitioners formed a UN-sanctioned organization to assist children and their mothers disadvantaged by World War II.  Children, they noted, constituted an easily acceptable humanitarian target and they, along with their mothers, made up the group that gave the world its best hope for the future. 

The International Children’s Emergency fund, later UNICEF, began to provide food and medical assistance to children and mothers in Europe and China, focusing a great deal of its resources and energies on combating syphilis.  With its own supply of penicillin, UNICEF’s programs treated children and mothers exclusively, denying applications for assistance from countries that included males in the treatment population.  This program resulted in two dramatic reversals for children and mothers.  First, it demanded that government assistance programs begin to consider children and women in new ways by highlighting their less than full citizenship status.  Second, UNICEF changed forever the perception of children and mothers with syphilis as degenerates unworthy of treatment by declaring them the most victimized by the disease.  The program also reveals how cultural differences and political rivalries affected UNICEF’s ability to effectively provide treatment, especially as it expanded its reach into the non-Western world.