For reasons that’d warrant a whole other article, 2016 was a universally a pretty shit year. But the figures of influence that the world lost through the last year were possibly one of the things that made it suck the most. David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Prince, George Michael and Carrie Fisher were just a few of the beloved celebrities that died and left this world palpably emptier.
But one death failed to attract nearly as much media attention as the others. Dr. Donald Henderson’s.
And this one may have been one of the greatest losses of the civilised world. 2016 was also the year that took Dr. Donald Henderson from us on August 9, 2016 at the age of 87, and if you keep reading, you’ll get why his life deserves every bit of celebration we can muster.
His is a medical legacy that not many can ever live up to. Saving the world from small pox, after all, is no small feat.
Henderson was the American physician, educator and epidemiologist whose work permanently rid the world of small pox – the daunting epidemic evil that claimed over 500 million lives during the course of the 20th century alone.
Henderson was a man on a mission. A mission against the biological threats in the world.
The 10-year international campaign (1967-77) of childhood vaccinations that eventually left the world safe from the vicious biological attacks of the small pox virus and saved future generations from the threat was an initiative by Dr. Henderson.
In this endeavour, Henderson travelled across the globe to India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Somalia among other places, so the vaccinations could reach the depths of the third world and truly cure the world as a whole.
And his mark in the world of public health isn’t likely to fade away anytime soon.
After tackling small pox, he continued to play a leading role in public heath initiatives and medical preparedness throughout his life and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002 for his incredible efforts and academic legacy.
And yet, his tragic death in August due to a fractured hip, never received quite the same shock and grief as our other cultural heroes’ deaths did.
An unsung hero of the medical world, Dr. Donald Henderson was a treasure that deserves a place among the greats of the world. And the world sure is a poorer place without him. R.I.P.