Thank you Donald Henderson

The Boston Globe has a partial list of people who died in 20016. It’s a long list, they start with Muhammad Ali and Elie Wiesel, then run through a long list of high-profile names all the way through Jim Delligatti (the man who invented the Bic Mac). They even include a few scientists. They do not include Donald Henderson (although he is in the addendum in the paper):

Dr. Donald A. Henderson, a leader of one of mankind’s greatest public health triumphs, the eradication of smallpox, died on Friday in Towson, Md. He was 87.

Starting in 1966, Dr. Henderson, known as D. A., led the World Health Organization’s war on the smallpox virus. He achieved success astonishingly quickly. The last known case was found in a hospital cook in Somalia in 1977.

Now I can understand not starting with him but in some ways he was one of the most consequential men in history:

It carried off many European monarchs and buried the lines of succession to thrones from England to China. Because it killed 80 percent of the American Indians who caught it, it was a major factor in the European conquest of the New World.

Three American presidents survived it: George Washington, Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln. In the 20th century, before it was extinguished, it was blamed for at least 300 million deaths.

Smallpox had already been eradicated in much of the West but it was still killing 2 million people per year when the campaign started. Dr. Henderson was far from the only person working on the battle, but I would still expect a person who is responsible for saving up to 2 million people per year to get a higher profile than the man who invented the Big Mac.

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