During the final phase of smallpox eradication, while combing the farthest reaches of Rajasthan for remnants of the variola virus, Cornelia E. Davis fell off her camel and broke a rib. In Patna, Lawrence Altman cobbled a makeshift mattress-and-bamboo raft to survive the massive flood of 1975; he’d spent five days on a roof with nausea and dehydration for company. In Jamshedpur, Larry Brilliant burst into the home of Russi Mody and got bit by his Tibetan mastiff, but powered on to reprimand the Tata Steel managing director for doing nothing to keep Jamshedpur from becoming a pox epicentre.
Davis, Altman, and Brilliant were three in an army of physicians, epidemiologists, and volunteers with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the fight against smallpox. They worked alongside India’s public health overseers, whose heroics the public knows little of. There was M I D Sharma of the National Institute of Communicable