The Graduate School of Public Health at the University of Pittsburgh recently concluded its first One Book, One Community program with a lecture by D.A. Henderson, MD, author of Smallpox: The Death of a Disease, which chronicles the 10-year effort to eradicate smallpox, considered one of the greatest achievements in the history of public health. Through the generosity of The Pittsburgh Foundation, all students who matriculated at GSPH this fall were provided with a signed copy of the book. All members of the GSPH community were invited to join together in reading and discussing the book over the first few weeks of the fall term.
“Having Dr. Henderson come for our One Book, One Community event was an extraordinary opportunity for our students to be inspired by one of the foremost leaders in public health history,” said Sandra Quinn, PhD, associate dean for student affairs and education. “They were thrilled to hear the challenges and successes of the smallpox eradication campaign and to meet Dr. Henderson, who has literally changed the history of mankind.”
Quinn conceived the idea for One Book, One Community to acknowledge the shared history of public health professionals and examine its implications for future public health efforts. One Book, One Community was integrated into the core curriculum as part of the Public Health Overview course to present an opportunity for a larger dialogue that is becoming too rare given the increasingly specialized disciplines within public health.
“As an incoming GSPH student, I really enjoyed the One Book, One Community program,” said Jennifer Jones, an MPH student in the Department of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences (BCHS). “Reading D.A. Henderson’s first-hand account of the eradication of smallpox was inspiring. Before reading the book, I didn’t know anything about smallpox, except that my parents had a scar on their arm from being vaccinated many years ago. The perseverance shown by hundreds of thousands around the globe coming together for a joint cause truly defines public health. It was an honor to meet Dr. Henderson and bring the book to life. The priceless investment made by many chartered new territories and opened many doors for public health professionals, like myself.”
“Today we are fighting a different battle, against people who fear vaccines more than they fear disease itself,” commented Bonnie Gewanter, also an MPH student in BCHS. “The success of Henderson’s smallpox eradication was partially due to public opinion and general fear of getting smallpox. This is something that we see today with the H1N1 outbreak, and its coverage in the media. Smallpox, the Death of a Disease, demonstrated that while one person can lead an eradication program, it takes a global community to accept it and effectively implement a strategy. As a student of public health, it is crucial to recognize that we work with the public to create a healthy society, and that they play as big a role as we do in the outcome of a public health initiative.”
Henderson is distinguished scholar at the Center for Biosecurity of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and a professor of public health and medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. He is dean emeritus and professor of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and a founding director (1998) of the Johns Hopkins Center for Civilian Biodefense Strategies. From November 2001 through April 2003, he served as director of the Office of Public Health Emergency Preparedness and, later, as principal science advisor in the Office of the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.
In 2002, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. He is the recipient of the National Medal of Science; the National Academy of Sciences’ Public Welfare Medal; and the Japan Prize, shared with two colleagues. He has received honorary degrees from 17 universities and special awards from 19 countries.