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When he took office as head of the General Directorate of Public Health in 1903, Oswaldo Cruz began advocating the need to transplant the sanitation initiatives he was already enforcing in Rio de Janeiro to other regions of the country. He committed himself to reformulating health services at Brazilian sea and river ports once yellow fever had been brought under control in the nation’s capital. This was in part related to Brazil’s promise to enforce the sanitary defense of its ports against the invasion of diseases like cholera and the bubonic plague as a signatory to the conventions of Venice (1897) and Paris (1903).

On September 28, 1905, in the company of his secretary, physician João Pedroso, Cruz headed to northern Brazil aboard the trawler República. He carried with him a plan to construct isolation hospitals and disinfecting stations at each place to be visited.

The expedition was divided into two phases. During the first, which ended on December 6, Cruz stopped at 26 ports: Cabo Frio, in the state of Rio de Janeiro; Vitória, in Espírito Santo; Caravelas, Santa Cruz, Porto Seguro, and Salvador, in Bahia; Aracaju in Sergipe; Penedo and Maceió, in Alagoas; Tamandaré and Recife, in Pernambuco; Cabedelo and Paraíba, in Paraíba; Natal, Mossoro, Areia Branca, and Macau, in Rio Grande do Norte; Camocim and Fortaleza, in Ceará; Amarração, in Piauí; São Luís, in Maranhão; Belém, Óbidos, and Santarém, in Pará and, lastly, Parintins and Manaus, in Amazonas.

The second leg of the journey began on January 17, 1906, and was devoted to ports in the South. Traveling on the Santos, Cruz visited Santos, São Paulo; Paranaguá, Paraná; São Francisco do Sul, Itajai and Florianópolis in Santa Catarina; and Rio Grande in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil’s southernmost state. From there the voyage continued on to the capitals of neighboring Uruguay, Argentina, and Paraguay, followed by Corumbá, in Mato Grosso. On February 28, after passing once again through Buenos Aires and Asuncion, the vessel returned to Rio de Janeiro.

Together, the two expeditions lasted 111 days. Although Cruz’s plan was never actually put in place, the expedition gathered a large amount of material for research, especially mosquitoes and blood samples from the sick.

This pioneer experience to make contact with a Brazil that was virtually unknown to the country’s large urban centers saw continuity some years later through the scientific expeditions of the Oswaldo Cruz Institute. It was essentially thanks to these surveys that the country became aware of the dramatic reality of its most long-suffering citizens: the population of the Brazilian hinterlands.