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Catalogue from the 14th International Congress of Hygiene and Demography. Berlin, 1907

During the years that Cruz headed the Oswaldo Cruz Institute, it cemented its position as Latin America’s leading center for research into tropical diseases. On the world stage, two notable events played a major role in earning this recognition: the International Hygiene Expositions held in Berlin and Dresden, Germany. Not only did they help make the institute’s name familiar in the most advanced medical and scientific circles around the world; more importantly, they bore witness to one of the most resplendent periods in Brazilian science and public health.

Set up in 1907 during the 14th International Congress of Hygiene and Demography, the Brazilian exhibit in Berlin was the product of the successful yellow fever campaign led by Cruz in Rio de Janeiro. It was also possible because of the ties which scientist Henrique da Rocha Lima, one of Cruz’s key collaborators, had developed with German institutions of tropical medicine.

For the exhibit, Cruz prepared a small sample of the sera and vaccines produced at the institute’s laboratories. He also put on display specimens and drawings of disease-transmitting insects and pathological samples of lesions from yellow fever and plague patients, along with photographs and models of the new facilities designed by architect Luiz Moraes Junior. This material—especially the part related to tropical diseases—caused a great stir among attendees. The Brazilian delegation came away with the gold medal, the top prize at the Congress. News of the award drew an enthusiastic response in Brazil.

Four years later, in 1911, a new exposition, this time in the city of Dresden, informed the world about one of the most remarkable feats of science achieved at the Oswaldo Cruz Institute. Brazil was the only country from the Americas to have its own stand at the event, and its display on the discovery of Chagas disease attracted much attention. Cruz took the opportunity to show short film clips of scenes from the yellow fever campaign in Rio and images of Carlos Chagas in Lassance, the town in Minas Gerais where the scientist had in 1909 identified the disease that today bears his name. These may be the oldest science films made in Brazil.

Cruz earned a name not only for his work as director of the Oswaldo Cruz Institute but also as a pioneer in the use of film as a way of informing about the accomplishments of Brazilian science.