DA Henderson's Legacy Will Continue


One year ago, the world lost one of its benefactors, Dr. DA Henderson. I've written about DA's incredible career and insights before and I will continue to do so as his prowess was, in my estimation, without equal. 

DA was the architect and commanding general of the WHO's smallpox eradication campaign -- the one and only successful effort to rid humanity of an infectious disease. His merciless assault on the virus gave it no quarter and gave humanity new hope that they would never again be haunted by this virus and that such feats as the eradication of an infectious disease eradication were possible with the use of one's mind. 

DA's ability, his field vision, with infectious disease is what I think the world will miss the most. He had developed the ability to see an infectious disease outbreak with such precision as to transcend the predictions and assumptions of mathematical models. It was as if he and the microbe were looking each other in the eye, each anticipating the other's move. 

What I miss most,  is his unending enthusiasm for infectious disease and his boundless energy to infect others with that enthusiasm while imparting priceless wisdom.

In the Center, his portrait hangs on the wall and one can look at it for inspiration and ask "What Would DA do?"

WWDAD about the scary changes with H7N9 avian influenza, the ongoing cases of MERS in the Arabian Peninsula, the whispered threats of North Korean biological weapons, the longer chains of human to human monkeypox transmission, Candida auris, the roll out of a malaria vaccine, the ongoing spread of cholera in Yemen, the recognition of Zika as a teratogen, and so many of the challenge our species will continue to face from the microbial world? 

We will never know the answer to that question and we are all worse off for it. But, we do know that DA's brilliant legacy lives on in all those infectious disease physicians, microbiologists, public health practitioners, epidemiologists, and world leaders who had the opportunity to learn from him.

The fact that DA existed, succeeded against incredible odds against smallpox, and told us all how to approach the field gives our species an incredible tool we can use to flourish in this microbially-dominated planet.