Monday, September 4, 2017

Dr. Donald Henderson - Ever hear of this guy?

You should, as he was instrumental in eradicating Smallpox, a virulent and truly loathsome disease.  Just one more person no one recalls but who made a huge difference in everyone's life worldwide.

A friendly looking guy

Specifically, Dr. Henderson served as Chief of the CDC virus disease surveillance programs from 1960 to 1965, working closely with the inspirational epidemiologist Dr. Alexander Langmuir. During this period, he and his unit developed a proposal for a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) program to eliminate smallpox and control measles during a 5-year period in 18 contiguous countries in western and central Africa.  This project was funded by USAID, with field operations beginning in 1967.

The USAID initiative provided an important impetus to a World Health Organization (WHO) program to eradicate smallpox throughout the world within a 10-year period. In 1966, Henderson moved to Geneva to become director of the campaign. At that time, smallpox was occurring widely throughout Brazil and in 30 countries in Africa and South Asia. More than 10 million cases and 2 million deaths were occurring annually. Vaccination brought some control, but the key strategy was "surveillance-containment". This technique entailed rapid reporting of cases from all health units and prompt vaccination of household members and close contacts of confirmed cases. 

WHO staff and advisors from some 73 countries worked closely with national staff. The last case occurred in Somalia on October 26, 1977, only 10 years after the program began.  Three years later, the World Health Assembly recommended that smallpox vaccination could cease. Smallpox is the first human disease ever to be eradicated.

Yet another white man spreading around some privilege. 


  1. I had the pleasure of spending some time Dr. Henderson, pleasant fellow.
    When I asked him if his efforts were a good thing at the end of the day he stated that while he had never been asked that question he often wondered the same.