Friday, September 23, 2016

Join me in saying thanks

There is one page in the Economist that I always check out first.  It is the last page.

When you have been reading a magazine long enough, you check out your favorite sections first.  I start with the last page of the Economist.  What's there?  An obit essay.

Yep. About somebody who died.  Almost always, the person who died would have done something wonderfully constructive.  Sometimes, the obit is to be thankful that an awful person is no more. It is in this latter category that I hope to read about Mugabe really, really soon.

When it is about a constructive contribution, often the person is one who is not really a household name. Which is all the more that I love that last page.  Like this time.  It was about Donald Ainslie (“D.A.”) Henderson.  Up until I read this, I had no idea about this Henderson!

As a teenager, Henderson became obsessed with smallpox after the virus re-visited New York City, which panicked the residents. 
He wanted to study the causes, spread and suppression of epidemics. Rather than serve in the army he joined the Epidemic Intelligence Service at the Communicable Disease Centre in Atlanta, for what he called “firefighter” training. As soon as a disease broke out anywhere in the world, he would dash to tackle it—becoming a proper “shoe-leather” epidemiologist, as opposed to a “shiny-pants” desk-bound sort. When he was hauled away from his anti-smallpox work in west Africa and sent to Geneva for the WHO in 1967, at 38, he wasn’t thrilled. But if they wanted the world rid of the virus in ten years, he would give it his best shot.
From the stories I have heard from my father and grandmothers, smallpox was one mighty enemy that people feared.  A cousin of my father's was a typical survivor, with scars on his face as evidence of the battle.  By the time we kids came along, the worry was only about chickenpox.  We owe it all to Dr. Henderson and his “surveillance-containment” towards "Target Zero":
Problems rose up constantly. In Ethiopia, rebels attacked the vaccinators. Afghanistan brought deep snow and no maps. In Bangladesh trucks could not cross the bamboo bridges; in India mourners had to be stopped from floating smallpox corpses down the Ganges. He experienced most of this himself, frequently decamping from cramped Geneva armed with “Scottish wine” (his favourite medicine) to urge on the troops. Out in the trenches he also faced the full horror of what he was fighting. At a hospital in Dhaka the stench of leaking pus, the pustule-covered hands stretched towards him, the flies clustering on dying eyes, convinced him anew that he had to win this war.
The last recorded case was in 1977.  A decade after he was appointed to the job, Henderson did rid of the world of this monster.

To borrow from Einstein, we are standing on the shoulders of giants who made our lives so easy.  

Thanks, Dr. Henderson.


Ramesh said...

It is one of mankind's greatest achievements that small pox has been eradicated. I didn't know of Dr Henderson too. Why hasn't he been sainted.

He falls in the same category as Norman Borlaug. Norman who ? is what 99.99% of the population would ask. Borlaug, Henderson, et al, are the true saints of the modern world.

Incidentally, a subsequent issue of The Economist touches upon the attempt to eradicate the mosquito, which carries more lethal disease than probably any other animal. Instead of trying to eradicate the disease, they are trying to eradicate the carrier. You can guess who is behind this - Bill & Melinda Gates amongst others. They are pouring money into research to do this.

Gates is a worthy successor to Borlaug, Henderson .....

Sriram Khé said...

"Mother" Teresa gets a Nobel and is literally sainted. Meanwhile, Henderson ...?
At least Borlaug was recognized with a Nobel.

I am with the Gates couple on the mosquito issue. It is the most dangerous thing for humans--through history and now. From what I have understood, wiping out the mosquitoes from the face of the earth won't affect a darn thing.

Gates is a worthy successor not to Borlaug and Henderson, but to Jimmy Carter. As in while Borlaug and Henderson were experts in the field working to improve the human condition, Carter and Gates are using the phenomenal power they have in order to improve the human condition by tapping into the experts.

BTW, it might shock you (or not) that at a conference session, a panel of academics were sharply complaining that the UN's development approach is nothing but the Bill Gates plan, and that the UN has become subservient to the Gates Foundation and the likes. Those damn neoliberals was the complaint. (I am paraphrasing, of course.) The left is so ideological (like how the right is when it comes to issues like climate change) ... if only people will be thoughtful and logical and everything else like me instead ... muahahaha ;)

Most read this past month