Obituary: Dr. Ciro de Quadros

Dr. Ciro de Quadros | Credit: Sonia Mey-Schmidt/PAHO/WHO

Dr. Ciro de Quadros, a Brazilian epidemiologist who was instrumental in ridding the Americas of polio, died in late May. He was 74 and had pancreatic cancer.

Just five weeks before, on April 25, Dr. de Quadros was named a Public Health Hero of the Americas by the  Pan American Health Organization (PAHO, the regional office for the Americas of the World Health Organization).

In the late 1970s, Dr. de Quadros founded the Expanded Program on Immunization at PAHO, which helped countries of Latin America and the Caribbean provide vaccines to their populations that had previously been available only in wealthier countries, according to PAHO’s report of his death.

Before taking on eradication of polio in the Americas in the 1980s, he worked on WHO’s smallpox eradication campaign in Brazil and Ethiopia. Dr. Donald Henderson, the former dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, led the smallpox eradication effort and recruited Dr. de Quadros to work in Ethiopia.

In a New York Times interview yesterday, Dr. Henderson recalled that Dr. de Quadros and his teams worked in the midst of Ethiopia’s civil war during which a half-dozen of his teams were kidnapped and one of his United Nations helicopters was commandeered along with its pilot. Dr. de Quadros helped to negotiate the return of the health teams and the pilot, all of whom returned to work in the field on the smallpox vaccination campaign.

“That’s a measure of the dedication he inspired,” Dr. Henderson was quoted as saying. “Even that helicopter pilot” — who was carrying vaccine when he was hijacked — “vaccinated the rebels who held him.”

In the early 1980s, Dr. de Quadros began advocating for the eradication of polio from the Americas. In an interview with the WHO Bulletin earlier this year, Dr. de Quadros remembereds how the polio campaign went global:

“At a cocktail party at PAHO in 1979, Dr. [Halfdan] Mahler, the Director-General of WHO at the time, told me that he would never let a programme like smallpox dominate WHO’s work so much again. But, by the time we launched the programme to wipe out polio in the Americas in 1985, he supported us.

“During the first three years, we demonstrated that our strategies were stopping polio transmission and that led to calls within WHO to eradicate polio globally. At the meeting in 1988 in Talloires (France) that led to the World Health Assembly resolution to eradicate polio, Mahler joined the heads of other international organizations and ministers of health and was very supportive of polio eradication.”

He concluded the interview by declaring that his life had been a “fantastic ride.”~TM

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