Friday, September 11, 2009

Review of Smallpox: The Death of a Disease

D. A. Henderson’s account of eradicating one of the world’s most lethal diseases, Smallpox: The Death of a Disease, is exactly what it is advertised as—“The Inside Story of Eradicating a Worldwide Killer.” Looking back on his experience as the director of the World Health Organization’s campaign to rid the earth of smallpox, Henderson relates his account of the eradication campaign.

            Smallpox: The Death of a Disease provides a good but general overview of the disease itself and post-eradication concerns such as bioterrorism; but the greatest strength of Henderson’s tale lies in the fantastic detail of the technology and policy that eradicated smallpox. An interesting read for those interested in history, politics, and healthcare, Smallpox: The Death of A Disease maps out the first and only blueprint for infectious disease eradication policy, as Henderson painstakingly covers the challenges that the eradication team experienced in each area.

Open, and earnest (though at times abrasive, particularly when dealing with WHO Director-General Candou, the Somalian government, and various others), the only major fault I have with Henderson is his purportedly inaccurate depiction of himself. Henderson repeatedly portrays himself smoothly untangling messes with bureaucracies, however, in an interview with eradication veteran Dr. Don Francis, I learned that Henderson’s plans didn’t always go as well as he implies.

            A minor fault in Smallpox: The Death of a Disease is self-contradiction. The entire purpose of the books seems to be to describe the eradication of smallpox so that it can be used a lesson to the eradicate other diseases, however, Henderson concludes the book with the belief that eradication of any other disease is impossible. A second minor fault is the lack of literary ability in the book; Henderson, while incredibly competent in many areas, is simply not an author by training. Despite these weaknesses, I thoroughly enjoyed Smallpox: The Death of a Disease and believe that it provides much-needed information and policy used in Henderson’s great feat—the eradication of smallpox. 

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