Thoughts on economics and liberty

Donald Henderson showed why virtually no other virus than small pox can be eradicated

Apart from smallpox, Donald Henderson was sceptical about the ability of mankind to eradicate any other human virus.

Even though he had led the ONLY successful eradication program of the world, Henderson warned in 1990 against the delusion of eradication.

He also wrote a book chapter in 1992 “Strategies for the Twenty-First Century: Control or Eradication?”


Not surprisingly, there is renewed interest in disease eradication, <40,41142) some sort of effort which would galvanize attention, garner funds and mobilize efforts. Such efforts began with hookworm eradication, migrated to yellow fever, then to Aedes aegypti, and finally to malaria. In each instance, these decisions, as I hope I have illustrated, were driven more by evangelism than by science, by emotions more than by reason, by the belief that answers lay in diligent administration rather than good epidemiology and innovative research, by the belief that it was better to try and fail than not to try at all. By the time smallpox eradication emerged, the most feasible of all programs, public health credibility was at a low ebb. We have recaptured some of that credibility.

oday, there are those who would have us embark on new eradication campaigns – measles, poliomyelitis, Guinea worm – and, yes, even such as tuberculosis, leprosy, yaws, hunger and who knows what other problems. Any and all can be considered and I support that effort. Before embarking on such programs, however, let us examine first the science and empirical experience because important policy and resource allocations are implied.

We as public health professionals can ill afford to again squander our credibility in ill-founded delusions rather than realistic dreams.

An interview published in Aug 2016, days before Henderson’s death, also showed that Henderson remained sceptical.


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Sanjeev Sabhlok

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