Oswaldo Cruz Institute

Date: 1909
: Wellcome Library, London
Source Type: Images

The Instituto Oswaldo Cruz was Brazil's first successful scientific institute. The government created the Instituto Seroterapico (Serum Therapy Institute) in 1900 as an attempt to combat the yellow fever and bubonic plague epidemics rampant in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. The institute was placed under the leadership of Dr. Oswaldo Cruz, whose vision, teaching ability, and administrative skills made him a national hero in his lifetime and enabled the Institute (renamed in his honor in 1908) to succeed where all previous Brazilian centers of science had failed.

Unlike the U.S. and Spanish America, Brazil had no universities that could serve to facilitate the growth of successful national science; indeed, Brazil's first major university would not be founded until the 1930s. In lieu of these centers of learning, Brazil attempted to build its medicine and science on scientific institutes yet, prior to Cruz, all efforts to accomplish this--like the Escola Tropicalista Bahiana (examined in the Tropical Medicine topic)-- had failed.

Cruz was able to develop an internationally renowned scientific establishment out of the Instituto Seroterapico's humble beginnings. He created a system that incorporated the most applicable elements of both basic science and applied science, a necessary condition for doing useful work in the short term but setting the foundations for long term improvement. He also employed Brazilian scientists as opposed to European ones, creating a corps of specialists that could produce science that could be consumed locally. The fact that the institute remains one of the leading scientific centers of Brazil bears witness to Cruz's importance to Brazilian science. Whereas earlier scientific centers were ephemeral, Cruz laid the foundations for scientific continuity, an essential element for every nation that hopes to engender local scientific excellence.

Reference: Stepan, Nancy Leys. Beginnings of Brazilian Science: Oswaldo Cruz, Medical Research and Policy, 1890-1920. Sagamore Beach, MA: Watson Publishing International, 1981.

CITATION: "Oswaldo Cruz Institute." From: Cruz, Oswaldo. Os servicos de saude publica no Brasil: especialmente na cidade do Rio de Janeiro: de 1808 a 1907. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. L0040958.