Is Donald Henderson familiar to you? Me either. I googled his name and someone else came up as soon as I had entered “Donald”. Not a lot of people have been googling the name, Donald Henderson.
He was in the news recently, barely. You had to be following a news source that reported minor stories, not just Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Ryan Lochte, and Colin Kaepernick. Donald A. Henderson died on August 19. He was 87. The story I read quoted a colleague who said, “D.A. Henderson truly changed the world for the better.”
In 1966, he led the global effort to eradicate smallpox. At the time, though smallpox was no longer a problem in the United States, it was a huge problem worldwide. There were more than 10 million cases and 2 million deaths each year. Brazil and 30 countries in Africa and South Asia were hardest hit.
Vaccination had done much good but the new strategy Henderson implemented was called “surveillance-containment”. This involved rapidly reporting new cases and promptly vaccinating family members and others who might have been infected. It was slow going and for a while appeared to be an effort in futility, but Henderson persisted. Eventually they started making progress. And finally success. The last naturally occurring case of smallpox was in Somalia on October 26, 1977. Smallpox is the first human disease ever to be eradicated. Thanks goes to many, but Donald A. Henderson is on the top of the list.
So why haven’t we heard of him? And why was his death barely noted? It’s a sign that we have our priorities skewed about what matters and what doesn’t.
As we start this new week, let’s pause for a moment to remember a life that “truly changed the world for the better”. And while we’re at it, let’s resolve once again to do what we can, on a smaller scale perhaps, to also change the world for the better.
Donald Henderson reminds us of something else. The good we do is not for us. It’s not so our lives will be celebrated and remembered. If the man who saved millions of lives by ending smallpox is barely remembered, we probably won’t be either. But God will remember. And the good we did will live on. Isn’t that all that really matters?
In Christ, John