Smallpox / Public Health Hero Loses to Cancer at 80

Dr. Davida Coady has lost her battle with ovarian cancer. She was 80 years old.

Davida Coady, physician who treated refugees in Biafra and helped eradicate smallpox in India, dies at 80.

When Dr. Coady was treating refugees in Biafra in 1969, my husband Carl was eradicating smallpox on the Nigerian side of the Nigeria-Biafra conflict while we lived in Kano, Nigeria. Later, Carl worked with WHO in Bangladesh, and Dr. Coady worked in India. Both of them there to help humankind travel that last inch in the battle against smallpox.

Dr. Coady resisted hard lines between medical specialties, because out in the field in the developing world doctors and public health workers treat everything. She said in a memoir, “If you’re a doctor, you’re every kind of doctor.”

In this same way, political borders yielded to diseases that know no country boundaries. During the horrors of the Nigeria-Biafra War, brief ceasefires would be called at times to allow specimens from suspected smallpox cases to be brought out of Biafra for laboratory analysis and fresh vaccine to be sent in.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not imagining combatants who think altruistically about the opponent’s good health. Self-interest was alive and well. As long as there was smallpox across any border, danger of re-imporation of the disease was high.

The frontiers of health have given rise to a multitude of fascinating people and their stories. I wanted to share with you this farewell to yet another of the army of public health and smallpox heroes.


You can read my blog posts about smallpox and political and social issues our family encountered in West Africa, and see excerpts from my upcoming memoir Vaccines & Bayonets: Fighting Smallpox in Africa amid Tribalism, Terror and the Cold War. And while you’re there,  if you want to keep advised as I journey toward publication you can sign up to follow me.


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