International Leprosy Association -
History of Leprosy

  • International Leprosy Association -
    History of Leprosy


    Oswaldo Gonçalves Cruz

    Status Medical Researcher
    Country Brazil


    Oswaldo Gonçalves Cruz was born on 5 August 1872 in São Luís de Paraitinga, São Paulo, Brazil. At the age of fifteen, he entered the Faculty of Medicine in Rio de Janeiro and in 1892 became a doctor of Medicine with his thesis entitled, 'A veiculação Microbiana pelas Águas'. Four years later he specialised in bacteriology at the Institut Pasteur in Paris.

    On his return to Brazil, he found the port of Santos in the grip of bubonic plague and was soon involved in the fight against this disease. In the face of the threat that the plague posed to Rio de Janeiro, the Instituto Soroterápico Federal was created on 25 May 1900, with the aim of developing a serum. In 1902, Oswaldo Cruz took over the management of the Institute and increased its activities to include research and training.

    Cruz was named Director-General of Public Health the following year. Using the Instituto Soroterápico Federal as a technical-scientific research base, he embarked on his health campaigns against yellow fever, bubonic plague and smallpox. At first, the public reaction was indignant and negative, but in 1907, yellow fever was eradicated in Rio de Janeiro and in 1908, a violent epidemic of smallpox brought the population en masse to the vaccination posts. These events allowed the public to see the value of Cruz's work, which was already recognised internationally. In 1907, at the fourteenth International Congress of Hygiene and Demography in Berlin, Cruz received a gold medal for his work in sanitation in Rio de Janeiro.

    In 1909, he left the post of Director-General of Public Health and began to concentrate his efforts on the Instituto at Manguinhos, that was renamed Instituto Oswaldo Cruz. He launched important scientific expeditions from the Institute and these allowed the acquisition of greater knowledge on the reality of the sanitary situation in the interior of Brazil. Yellow fever was eradicated in the state of Pará and a sanitation campaign was realised in Amazonia.

    In 1913, Cruz was elected by the Academia Brasileira de Letras. In 1915, due to health reasons, he left his position as director of the Institute and moved to Petrópolis. Suffering from a kidney complaint, he died on 11 February 1917, at the age of 44 years.

    (Information from leaflet published by Instituto Oswaldo Cruz, and biographical details in Guia do Acervo da Casa de Oswaldo Cruz. COC/Fiocruz, Rio de Janeiro, 1995. pp70-71)

    Entry made on 18 September 2002

    Research Institute(s) associated with:
    Instituto Oswaldo Cruz, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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