Smallpox Eraducation Programme Archive

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Smallpox cartoon

Version 5.1 of, Target Zero — Smallpox Eradication Program archive. In this version, we have significantly expanded the DA Henderson Archive.

DA Henderson, chief of the Intensified Smallpox Eradication Programme at WHO (1966-1977), died on 19 August 2016. This version of the online research archive, Target Zero — Smallpox Eradication Program is issued on the anniversary of his death. The DA Henderson Archive, a part of the Target Zero site, is essentially a CV with links to his papers. Henderson's papers will be archived for preservation, most likely in Johns Hopkins' Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives. The physical archive will be difficult to access, especially for the public health community outside the US. Thus we have decided to provide an online archive for ready distribution. As far as we know, there are very few archives of this type — it is extremely difficult to get funding, as Henderson himself discovered.

This version of the Henderson archive adds links to a selection of his more than 700 unpublished lectures and addresses. Most are those that he himself considered to be "of special interest." Many are handwritten or annotated. Notably, they include informal talks addressed to SEP teams. These are all handwritten (some on local hotel paper). They are included in the Target Zero archive under the relevant country or meeting, as well as grouped under the Lectures and Addresses tab.

We continue to add material to the site and to make improvements. We welcome any contributions of material, photos, photo identifications, contemporaneous articles published by SEP staff, and of course feedback on the site.

Target Zero — Smallpox Eradication Program responds to the recommendation of WHO’s Global Commission for the Certification of Smallpox Eradication:

Recommendation (17). All relevant scientific, operational and administrative data should be catalogue and retained for archival purposes in WHO headquarters and perhaps also in several centres interested in the history of medicine." (p. 15)

Our objective is to establish a comprehensive online research archive dedicated to the scientific, operational and administrative documents and memorabilia concerning the World Health Organization (WHO) Smallpox Eradication Programme (SEP).

Our intention is that Target Zero will include, in a single location accessible worldwide, a comprehensive dedicated selection of original source documents from the WHO Smallpox Eradication Programme. The archive will include previously unavailable source documents (reports issued by the SEP headquarters unit for field staff, selected correspondence, background and commentary on selected events by DA Henderson, and photos and memoirs of SEP staff and their families). Documents available online from WHO and CDC will also be included. The site will identify, characterize, and link appropriately with other archives containing related source documents.

Target Zero is intended for those concerned with the management and administration of large complex international programs, as well as those interested in the history of the SEP. The eradication of smallpox has inspired efforts to eradicate or control other diseases. Increased inter-national travel has facilitated the movement of both new and known diseases to new areas, and the threat of pandemics grows greater. The SEP provides valuable lessons in the management of inter-national disease-control programs; it is critical that the information be readily available worldwide.

Target Zero includes the DA Henderson Archive. Henderson was chief of the SEP from 1967-1977. He had an extensive collection of documents, books, artifacts, medals and awards, and other memorabilia related to the program to the program.

The original SEP and Henderson documents will be archived for preservation, most likely in Johns Hopkins' Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives. The Target Zero online research archive enables distribution of the source documents to a worldwide community of students, researchers, educators, program managers, and others interested in the development and management of international public health programs.

The Target Zero site will document the complexities and problems of the day-to-day management of the many aspects of the program, both in normal and “crisis” situations.

The SEP began on 1 January 1967, when WHO allocated $2.4 million from its regular budget to assist countries in eradicating smallpox. At that time, there were an estimated 10-15 million cases of smallpox worldwide annually, with 2 million deaths. A 10-year target date was specified by the World Health Assembly. Ten years, 9 months, and 26 days later, the last natural case of smallpox in the world occurred. A person-to-person chain of infection that had endured for more than 3,500 years had been broken.

Smallpox eradication presented enormous management and logistical difficulties. It required that a WHO Smallpox Eradication unit of 14 persons coordinate and motivate the efforts of WHO regional offices, national ministries, more than 850 international workers, and hundreds of thousands of national health staff in 40 countries. Difficult field conditions and poor infrastructure were exacerbated by natural disasters, civil war, and refugee migrations. Acquiring and transferring funds and high-quality vaccine were ongoing issues. Communication was limited almost exclusively to regional meetings and the mails.

Nonetheless, the last case of smallpox occurred on October 26, 1977. Two years of intensive case searches followed. Smallpox eradication was certified by the WHO Global Commission for the Certification of Smallpox Eradication in its Final Report, dated December 1979. The report and its recommendations were endorsed by the World Health Assembly on May 14, 1980.

A limited number of SEP documents are available online. However, most of the source documents are located in widely scattered archive facilities. The primary repositories are the World Health Organization and its Regional Offices; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Brilliant Collection at the University of Michigan. The types of documents and their current availability are listed below:

  • Documents from the Smallpox Eradication unit were archived at WHO headquarters at the conclusion of the program. Around 2010, WHO received funds that permitted it to digitize and make available online WHO numbered report series, including those from the SEP. A web page dedicated to the SEP was created but not populated, presumably because of severe cutbacks in organizational funding

The SEP numbered report series are available on the WHO digital library, the Institutional Repository for Information Sharing (IRIS). However, IRIS has been designed and organized for WHO institutional use. SEP reports are difficult and time-consuming to locate and the user can-not be certain of retrieval of all relevant reports on a given topic. Work is currently underway to digitize the remaining SEP documents. Researchers can request CDs of the content of a box of documents.

  • Documents related to the SEP from the WHO Regional Offices have not been systematically digitized. The Brilliant Collection at the University of Michigan includes the documents of the South East Asia Regional Office (SEARO). These have been digitized and may become available online. The extent of archival files at the other regional offices is unknown.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which conducted the West and Central Africa Smallpox Eradication/Measles Control Program, does not systematically archive its pro-grams, other than the correspondence of program directors, which becomes part of the National Archives. Its smallpox program files were destroyed during a government paper reduction drive, and have been only partially reconstructed from the personal archives of those involved in the program. CDC archives are also limited to CDC programs and personnel and cannot include smallpox eradication material beyond its West and Central Africa program.

If you have slides, photos, narratives, or other material you'd like to contribute, let us know. We will supply you with a FedEx account for shipping, and will scan and return the material. Keep in mind that the Henderson Collection at the Institute of the History of Medicine includes artifacts (statuary, paintings, vaccination and variolation instruments, commemorative items, and even caps and T-shirts). You may want to consider donating such material to the Collection.


Gene Bartley; Jay Friedman; Lev Khodakevich; Vince Radke; Michael Schwartz; Marc Strassberg; Gassan Suleimanov; Henderson family

Photo identifications

Pierre Claquin; Dawn Eidelman (daughter of Andy Agle); Jay Friedman (whose eagle eye noted that a photo of children clustered around a poster couldn't possibly be in Nigeria, as described in the CDC caption, because the poster was in French); Tim Miner; Vince Radke; Bruce Weniger

Translation from Amharic

Tsegereda Kifle

Thanks to:

Victor Okunrintemi, Bloomberg School of Public Health student and President of the Anna Baetjer Society for Public Health Practice, donated time for the much-needed task of ensuring that links went to the right places.

Joel Breman, who has been a strong supporter of the site, and who brought me together with Mary Hilpertshauser, curator of CDC's Global Health Chronicles, to discuss the disposition of his large photo collection. Mary is a dedicated historian and SEP enthusiast and is delighted that we are picking up with the WHO program, because she is limited to CDC's West Africa program. We have been able to contribute documents about the origin of CDC Smallpox Eradication/Measles Control Program, as well as photos from Henderson's files that were not in the CDC photo archive.

Kristina Engstrom, who brought to our attention the collection on Women Peace Corps Volunteers in Afghanistan's Smallpox Eradication Program, housed at the Radcliffe Schlesinger Library. Kristina put me in touch with Jill Vickers (team member) and Jody Bergedick, who have made available for research purposes their 2002 documentary Once in Afghanistan.

Don Francis — Thanks in advance for the boxes in his basement in San Francisco; we haven't yet figured out the best approach, but we will

Jay Friedman: Mounted formal photograph of the 24-member 1976 Smallpox Eradication Team, Bihar State, Patna.

Veronica Garcia digitized Larry Brilliant's smallpox library, now the University of Michigan Library's Brilliant Collection. She writes, "Every piece of paper, every negative and every slide is now in a form that can be easily shared and distributed to whoever would want them. That is how much I value and appreciate the work that you all did!" The Library has mounted a must-see online exhibit, Smallpox Eradication in India, 1972-1977, and anticipates making the Brilliant Collection available to the public some time this year.

Pat Imperato, who has unearthed photos of Djenne terracotta figures depicting smallpox, and is seeking permission for us to use them.

Alan Morinis for a remarkable 1976 Bengali wall calendar featuring reward information and a large picture of a very unpleasant case of smallpox.

Bruce Weniger for his excerpt of the WHO film Point of No Return featuring Ciro de Quadros.

John Wickett, who is turning up some fascinating older documents, as well as documents related to the origins of the Expanded Program on Immunization.


Christopher d'Amanda, Nana Henderson, Lev Khodakevich, Tim Miner, Micheal Schwartz (video), Gassan Suleimanov

Smallpox Eradication Programme ArchiveLeigh Ainslie Henderson PhD
Project Manager

3001 Guilford Ave.
Baltimore MD 21218-3926

Phone: 410.292.5623

Email: SEP Archive

Please let us know what you think of the site, what you would like to see, and how it can be made easier to use.

If you have digital material to contribute, you can send via e-mail.

If you have non-digital material such as documents, photos, slides, or negatives, please send via Federal Express, marked "Bill Recipient". All materials will be digitized and returned to you, along with digital copies.