University of Pittsburgh
June 1, 2009

Pitt Professor Who Led Effort to Wipe Out Smallpox Marks 30th Anniversary of Eradication With June 4 Book Launch at Pitt

Former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson will be available for interviews prior to appearance and remarks at publication event for D.A. Henderson's important book, "Smallpox-The Death of a Disease"
Contact:  412-624-4147

PITTSBURGH-Former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson will be available for interviews prior to the University of Pittsburgh's June 4 event to launch Pitt professor D.A. Henderson's upcoming book, "Smallpox-The Death of a Disease: The Inside Story of Eradicating a Worldwide Killer" (Prometheus). The book chronicles the decade-long endeavor Henderson led for the World Health Organization (WHO) to eliminate smallpox, the only infectious disease ever eradicated.

The launch event will be held from 5 to 6:30 p.m. on June 4 in the J. W. Connolly Ballroom, Alumni Hall, 4227 Fifth Ave., Oakland. Pitt's Center for Global Health, which was established on May 6, 2009, to promote multidisciplinary international health research and scholarship, is a sponsor of the book launch.

The Pitt event also commemorates the 30th anniversary of the official declaration that smallpox, the virus that had killed many millions since at least the time of the pharaohs, had been eradicated. The event will take place against the backdrop of Pitt's past and continuing contributions to global public health, from the development of the polio vaccine and the first successful human organ transplant to Pitt's Center for Global Health.

During the event, Henderson-a distinguished scholar in UPMC's Center for Biosecurity and a Pitt professor of public health and medicine-will present an overview of his book and relate his experience to tactics for modern disease preparedness, particularly the case of influenza H1N1. Thompson, who served in President George W. Bush's administration and named Henderson as the inaugural director of the national Office of Public Health Emergency Preparedness in 2001, also will speak. He will discuss medical diplomacy-extending health-care resources to other nations-and his work with Henderson, particularly the connection between national biosecurity and medical diplomacy. Thompson will site Henderson's work with the WHO Smallpox Eradication Unit as an example of how medical diplomacy can be successful and relate lessons from the smallpox campaign to potential fights against other diseases.

Henderson was tapped to lead the WHO Smallpox Eradication Unit in 1966. In 1967, he initiated a vaccination campaign that involved up to 150,000 workers in 70 nations tracking one of humankind's deadliest diseases. The team struggled with a small budget, infections in scores of countries, civil wars, floods, impassable roads, and bureaucratic and cultural obstacles. Finally, the last naturally occurring case of smallpox was reported in Somalia in 1977-only nine months over the team's goal of 10 years.

Photos available:

More information on the event, photos from Henderson's book, and more biographical information on Henderson are available on Pitt's Web site at