REMEMBERING DR. DONALD HENDERSON AND THE ERADICATION OF SMALLPOX
(Senate - September 06, 2016)

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[Pages S5291-S5292]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]




    REMEMBERING DR. DONALD HENDERSON AND THE ERADICATION OF SMALLPOX

  Mr. BROWN. Mr. President, while my colleagues and I were back home in 
Ohio, Michigan, Arizona or Florida over the last number of weeks, this 
country lost one of the heroes in the fight to eradicate smallpox: 
Lakewood, OH, native and Oberlin College graduate Dr. Donald Henderson. 
Dr. Henderson passed away at age 87 on August 19. He left behind 
perhaps the most important public health legacy of anyone in the 20th 
century.
  Along with Dr. William Foege, who is still alive and still very 
active, Dr. Henderson helped lead the war on humankind's most feared 
diseases and achieved one of the greatest public health victories 
ever--very arguably maybe the most important public health victory--the 
eradication of smallpox.
  Most Americans are too young to remember the fear that smallpox 
struck in the hearts of people around the globe. Because of the work of 
literally 150,000 workers--paid workers and volunteers, thousands and 
thousands, tens of thousands of public health workers--fewer and fewer 
of us bear the scars on our upper arms that serve as a reminder of the 
danger this disease once posed.
  In the 20th Century, it is estimated that more than 300 million 
people died of smallpox. Think of that. More than 300 million people 
died of smallpox--at least. Some estimates are as high as 500 million. 
The numbers aren't particularly precise, putting it mildly, because of 
where the deaths occurred and how they occurred and what people were 
dying of in addition to smallpox. Because of the serious investment our 
country and the world made in stamping out this disease, we no longer 
live in fear.
  I think there are some lessons here. I just listened to the Senator 
from Florida talk about the fact his party seems to want to load up the 
Zika virus funding with all kinds of political statements or wants to 
take the money from some other public health fund and move it into the 
Zika virus, which is different from what we did as a nation to combat 
smallpox. What we did as a nation to combat smallpox had nothing to do 
with political parties; it was all about making sure that we came 
together as a nation and around the world.
  It was an expensive and serious investment. It was a massive 
international effort. It mobilized epidemiologists--well-paid 
epidemiologists and laboratories and low-paid health care workers in 
India and South Asia and parts of Africa across the globe. Dr. Foege 
wrote an amazing account of this campaign in his 2011 book called 
``House on Fire.''
  The smallpox vaccine had existed since the late 18th century. Dr. 
Edward Jenner developed the first successful vaccine in fighting 
cowpox. We all learned that in high school. But having the science 
wasn't enough to actually get people vaccinated to allay people's fears 
of what a vaccination could mean. Injecting a virus into somebody's arm 
obviously was a bit counterintuitive: That is going to make me well 
rather than sick? But to deal with the outbreaks would take action and 
coordination on a scale never before seen.
  The title of the book ``House on Fire'' refers to the way a young 
Indian doctor described the approach to the vaccination campaign: You 
pour water on the house that is burning. When an outbreak happened, 
that village and the ones immediately surrounding it needed to be 
vaccinated. That fire

[[Page S5292]]

line--or ring of vaccination is what doctors will sometimes call that--
around the virus would stop an epidemic. Mass vaccinations were highly 
expensive, and reaching into every village and doing what needed to be 
done was hard. It was hard to transport vaccines, keeping them active, 
if you will, and just the scale of the whole world--at least the whole 
developing world--meant they needed to do something different. That is 
the reason for the ring of vaccines or the fire line.
  Nonetheless, it still required significant investments from 
governments around the globe. Senators and Congressmen in those days 
hadn't taken pledges that they would never raise taxes or never close a 
tax loophole. We came up with the money because we knew public health 
counted for more than almost anything else. We needed funding for 
surveillance, for global partnerships, and for developing newer and 
more effective techniques.
  It took a huge amount of manpower and health care workers, local 
workers in India and Africa going from village to village identifying 
and stamping out outbreaks. The investment paid off. The last smallpox 
case appeared in the United States--keep in mind, 300 million people at 
least died between 1900 and the late 1970s--300 million people. The 
last case in the United States appeared in 1949. A little more than 30 
years later, after a 10-year campaign with Dr. Foege and Dr. Henderson 
and thousands and thousands of unnamed workers around the world, the 
last known case was found in Somalia in 1977.
  Smallpox is the only infectious disease for humans--the only 
infectious disease--to be declared eradicated by the World Health 
Assembly. We still have polio, we still have diphtheria, and we still 
have cholera. We have made huge progress in polio, thanks in part to 
the Rotary Club, thanks in part to international efforts by 
governments, by communities, by doctors, by researchers, by nurses, by 
health workers, and by so many other people. But smallpox is the only 
one that has totally been eradicated.
  That is how we should do partnerships. We know in health care that 
upfront public investment is the most effect way to take on the 
biggest, most important projects. Private charity works, surely. Look 
what Rotary did on polio. But you have to have the public dollars, the 
public investment. People in this body think government doesn't do 
anything right or government can't be trusted to do anything, to 
accomplish anything or there is no role of government. Well, think 
about the 300 million people dying from smallpox and now that is 
eradicated in every place in the world because governments worked 
together with local communities, with local researchers, with local 
doctors, and with all of that.
  These investments aren't just about helping individual people who are 
sick or at risk. Whether in our back yard or a world away, when you 
save one life, you help so many others. Dr. Henderson understood that, 
and so did many thousands of others whose names we don't celebrate but 
who risked their lives to end the scourge of smallpox.
  Today's world is more connected than ever. Think of the challenge we 
face with the spread of the Zika virus. Think how pathetic this 
Congress's response is to the Zika virus. We can't even fund the Zika 
virus out of this body because people want to make it about Planned 
Parenthood or about taking money from the Ebola virus effort instead of 
straightforward funding for the Zika virus. We did it with smallpox, 
where 300 million people died, and yet we can't stand up to get funding 
for the Zika virus.
  We are going to have to work together and commit to public investment 
to make this a better country and a better world for our children, just 
like Dr. Henderson and Dr. Foege. And Dr. Henderson, whom we honor 
today--an Ohio native and Oberlin College graduate--ran the campaign 
that ended the scourge of smallpox, which was a huge victory for 
humankind.
  I yield to Senator McCain.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Arizona.
  Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to address the 
Senate in a colloquy with my colleague from Arizona.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

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