Sunday, March 8, 2009

Dr. William Foege and Smallpox

One of the key doctors that contributed to the eradication of smallpox in 1979 was Dr. William Foege, a medical missionary. In 1966, Foege was involved in a certain incident in eastern Nigeria in which there was not enough vaccine shipped in time to inoculate the entire region. After verifying that an isolated village did in fact have a few cases of smallpox, Foege realized that they would have to use a different strategy involving military tactics. They created a network of medical missionaries in an effort to establish surveillance across the region. With this intelligence, they were able to contain the disease by following the people connected to the known infected. Foege’s “surveillance/containment” strategy only vaccinated less than fifty percent of the population rather than the expected eighty to one hundred percent. However, Foege’s strategy was not immediately accepted by the CDC. Many doctors remained skeptical, including Donald Hopkins, who tried the strategy in Sierra Leone. Hopkins was able to eliminate smallpox from the disease-rich region by inoculating less than seventy percent of the population. With Foege’s help, the WHO declared smallpox eliminated from the world. Foege has worked in many sectors of public health, including the Carter Center, which aims to eradicate Guinea worm.

Details can be found here:

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