Donald Henderson, the American physician and public health official who led a successful global fight to eradicate smallpox in the 1960s and 1970s, saving thousands of lives, died, at age 87.


Known as D.A., Henderson was considered a “giant” of public health, said Michael Klag, dean of the School of Public Health Johns Hopkins Bloomberg, a position previously occupied by Henderson.

“Henderson led the World Health Organization were successful in the 10 years he struggled to eradicate smallpox, one of the greatest public health achievements in history,” Klag said in a statement announcing his death. “Smallpox is the only human disease that has been completely eradicated.”

Henderson died Friday in Baltimore due to complications from a broken hip, he said in a statement the Medical Center of the University of Pittsburgh – where he was an academic.

Employee Center of Communicable Diseases, formerly called the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, he was selected in 1966 to lead the efforts, seemingly useless, the eradication of smallpox.

First known as “plague”, the disease was one of the deadliest in history, killing about 300 to 500 million people only in the twentieth century.

Henderson oversaw the implementation of a systematic vaccination program which aimed to isolate outbreaks, rather than trying to mass vaccination. The campaign was declared a success in 1980.

“D.A. Henderson has truly changed the world for the better,” he said in a statement, Tom Inglesby, Medical Center of the University of Pittsburgh. “With all that, he still had time to be a mentor to many young people and was a great friend. He is irreplaceable.”

Henderson leaves his wife Nana, her daughter Leigh and his sons Douglas and David.



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