In 1918, the Polish Government created in Warsaw the Central State Epidemiological Department, renamed on September 7, 1923 by the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Poland to the National Institute of Hygiene. Due to the bad epidemiological situation and the spreading epidemics of rash typhoid, cholera, tuberculosis, dysentery and many other infectious diseases, initially the main statutory task of the Institute was:
“Recognition of infectious diseases, examination of their nature, sources of production, control methods, as well as product and experimental tests of sera, vaccines, vaccinia and other bacterial products.”
Along with the improvement of the epidemiological situation of infectious diseases, the works of the National Institute of Hygiene began to focus primarily on hygiene issues. This was reflected in the statute of 1927, which puts on the forefront of the Institute’s tasks:
“Conducting scientific research in the field of public hygiene in order to adapt the knowledge acquired for the needs of public health”.
The scope of scientific-research and service activities of the National Institute of Hygiene included such issues as prevention, diagnosis and treatment of infectious diseases, occupational hygiene, mental hygiene and hygiene of nutrition, testing of food and objects of use, sanitary engineering and sanitary administration as well as subject to the Institute’s control of sera and vaccines and other medicines.
In connection with the takeover by the State of many private plants producing vaccines and immune sera, the State Plant for Hygiene was established as the Production Plant for Serums and Vaccines. It produced 32 types of different vaccines, such as the vaccine against cholera, dysentery, typhoid, smallpox and rabies, and 10 different antisera – diphtheria, dysentery, tetanus and streptococcal. Diagnostic preparations were also produced.
From 1924, the PZH Servis Production and Vaccine Production Plant was the only one in Poland producing insulin. The vaccines produced at PZH were widely known abroad, eg the League of Nations organizing vaccination of the Greek population used for this purpose PZH vaccines, as well as on its order large amounts of vaccines against cholera, typhus and dysentery were sent to Russia. All biological products produced in PZH, as well as imported from abroad, were subject to mandatory testing in the Department of Sera and Vaccine Research.
The growing needs of public health care, extensive preventive activities in the field of combating infectious diseases, food and water control and the necessity to solve other sanitary issues throughout Poland were the reason for the creation of 13 branches in major Polish cities subordinated to Centrala in Warsaw.
The PZH branches were established in Gdynia, Kielce, Kraków, Lublin, Lviv, Lutsk, Łódź, Poznań, Stanisławów, Toruń, Vilnius, Brześć nad Bugiem and in Katowice.
In 1939, the branch in Gdynia was transformed into the Institute of Maritime and Tropical Medicine existing until now.
Scientific and service activity was carried out in the National Institute of Hygiene in the Bacteriology and Experimental Medicine, Sera and Vaccines Departments, Chemistry, Food and Water Utilities and Water Department, as well as in the National Hygiene Schools Departments: Epidemiology and Statistics, Occupational Hygiene and Sanitary Technology.
In addition to scientific-research and service activities, the National Institute of Hygiene has been developing didactic activities. By a regulation of the Council of Ministers of 19 March 1922, it was established within the premises of the National Institute of Hygiene, the first State School of Hygiene in Europe.
The construction of the School’s headquarters was possible thanks to the help of the Rockefeller Foundation, which in the next years organized and sponsored trainings for PZH employees in American centers (Rockefellerans), and during the economic crisis financially supported the model health centers and the Serum Production Department.