This crowd of helpers, which delighted him, meant that no Nobel prize could be given for wiping out smallpox. If it had been, he might have shared it with William Foege, who first devised surveillance-containment, and Benjamin Rubin, inventor of the bifurcated needle, an easy and ingenious instrument which used a mere 25% of the normal amount of vaccine. But he was the man who kept the whole show on the road, strong-arming governments to provide funds and to make their own vaccines of the necessary purity, potency and stability; conducting his own cold-war diplomacy with the notably helpful Russians; muscling past the tentacular regional bureaucracies of the WHO; sending out continual reports on progress; and answering within three days, before e-mail, every plea that came in from the field.
Problems rose up constantly. In Ethiopia, rebels attacked the vaccinators. Afghanistan brought deep snow and no maps. In Bangladesh trucks could not cross the bamboo bridges; in India mourners had to be stopped from floating smallpox corpses down the Ganges. He experienced most of this himself, frequently decamping from cramped Geneva armed with “Scottish wine” (his favourite medicine) to urge on the troops. Out in the trenches he also faced the full horror of what he was fighting. At a hospital in Dhaka the stench of leaking pus, the pustule-covered hands stretched towards him, the flies clustering on dying eyes, convinced him anew that he had to win this war.
A man who’s life truly had an enormous impact on the health and wellbeing of those alive today.