18 December 2011

'Smallpox: The Death of a Disease', by D.A. Henderson

D.A. Henderson led the WHO office that coordinated the global smallpox eradication effort. His 2009 book focuses on the bureaucratic and diplomatic challenges that he and his shoestring staff had to overcome to combat the disease. He gives of an overview of how eradication unfolded in each of the endemic countries, including Bangladesh, which was torn by civil war, and Ethiopia, which had poor infrastructure and a substantial population of nomads. Despite seemingly insurmountable challenges, even the poorest countries accomplished this extraordinary public health feat. Young health care professionals bounding with creativity and ingenuity ultimately prevailed. Henderson also discusses the evolving debate over whether to destroy the remaining stockpiles of smallpox, as well as the threat of a bioterrorism attack involving smallpox. Henderson's work propelled him to a distinguished career as dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and as a senior White House administrator.

"Smallpox: The Death of a Disease" is a more academic and bird's-eye view of smallpox eradication than is William Foege's "House on Fire: The Fight to Eradicate Smallpox" (which I reviewed earlier). I would recommend first reading "House on Fire." If you find that book particularly stimulating, you will likely enjoy Henderson's book, as I did.