Dr. Donald A. Henderson, who led the World Health Organization’s war on smallpox, administering a smallpox vaccination in Ethiopia, around 1972. The last known case was in 1977. (Photo WHO)
Dr. Donald A. Henderson was an American physician who coordinated the World Health Organisation’s efforts to eradicate smallpox. After smallpox had been declared eradicated in 1980, he returned to the US, and became the Dean of what is now the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Dr. Donald A. Henderson died this month and will be remembered as a great scientist and public health physician.
As a child in late 1950s I remember a smallpox epidemic in Dilla in Ethiopia. I was so fortunate to have met this remarkable man, and listen to a talk he had at WHO in Geneva. Because of the success in eradicating smallpox, many believe that it also should be possible to eliminate other diseases such as poliomyelitis, Guinea worm, measles, or even malaria. I find it interesting to read that Dr Henderson was rather skeptical about these new eradication initiatives. Both the characteristics of the diseases, as well as the efforts put into getting rid of the diseases differed from what was the strategy to eradicate smallpox.