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Defusing the population bomb in the 1950s: Foam tablets in India

Abstract : After the World War II era, Western experts explained that the progress of medicine, which had led to a decrease in mortality in developing countries (‘control of death’) was not accompanied by a parallel decrease in birth rates (‘control of life’). This conjunction, they warned, would lead inexorably to population explosion and its terrifying consequences: famines, riots, political instability, expansion of Communism, wars. A heterogenous coalition of demographers, public health experts and politicians was urgently looking for an effective means to curb population growth. In the 1950s, many of them considered that mass distribution of foam tablets, a local contraceptive presented as simple to use, cheap and efficient, was a possible solution for the population crisis. At the same time, a potential opening of huge markets for this product generated intense competition among manufacturers and attempts to disqualify competing preparations as inefficient and dangerous for health. Struggles around the marketing of foam tablets, especially in India, reveal a unique combination of science, medicine, cold war politics, philanthropy and business. The presumed commercial and social potential of foam tablets was never fulfilled, due to the unreliability both of the product itself and of its ‘backward’ users, who either refused this contraceptive mean, or abandoned it promptly.
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Ilana Löwy. Defusing the population bomb in the 1950s: Foam tablets in India. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 2012, 43 (3), pp.583-593. ⟨10.1016/j.shpsc.2012.03.002⟩. ⟨hal-03478603⟩



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