Ciro de Quadros, a Brazilian-born doctor and epidemiologist who helped eradicate smallpox in the 1970s and later led efforts that eliminated polio and measles in the Western Hemisphere, saving or improving the lives of millions, died May 28 at his home in Washington. He was 74.
His death was confirmed by a daughter, Julia de Quadros. The cause was pancreatic cancer.
Few people in the past 50 years did more than Dr. de Quadros to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, particularly in the Americas. Beginning in Brazil in the 1960s, he helped arrest smallpox in a remote region of the Amazon. He later led programs that brought an end to polio and measles, sometimes brokering cease-fires among warring factions in order to vaccinate children in battle zones.
“This is one of the greatest public health professionals that we’ve ever had,” D.A. Henderson, former dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health who was also the director of the World Health Organization’s global project to eliminate smallpox, said Friday in an interview.
Smallpox was once a feared disease that could often lead to death and disfigurement. While working in Brazil in the late 1960s, Dr. de Quadros kept meticulous records of the cases he encountered and hired local residents to venture into small settlements.
Whenever he found smallpox patients, Dr. de Quadros acted quickly to vaccinate anyone who might come in contact with them. The method, known as “surveillance and containment,” became the standard in epidemiology.
In less than a year, Dr. de Quadros eliminated smallpox from a sprawling Brazilian state of 8 million people. Henderson then asked him to go to Ethiopia in the early 1970s.
“You could go walking through those mountains for days and days to find a smallpox case but then you could not vaccinate anybody because nobody wanted the vaccination,” Dr. de Quadros told the Lancet, a British medical publication, in 2001. “They would throw stones. They would set dogs on you.”
Nonetheless, he managed to win the confidence of the people by hiring local nurses and health workers and quickly brought the disease under control in Ethiopia. The world’s last known case of smallpox occurred in Somalia in 1977.
That year, Dr. de Quadros moved to Washington to work for the Pan American Health Organization, WHO’s regional branch for the Americas. He turned his attention to polio, a disease that often causes paralysis.
Since the discovery of a vaccine in 1955, polio had been largely eliminated from the United States and other countries with advanced medical care. But it remained a scourge in many poorer nations, where its victims were often reduced to lives as beggars.
Dr. de Quadros adopted many innovative methods to vaccinate children and bring the disease under control. He obtained investments from UNICEF, Rotary International, the Inter-American Development Bank and other organizations and established an international fund to help poorer countries buy vaccines at a discount.
He taught governmental health and finance ministers about the social benefits of preventive medicine. He organized “national immunization days,” in which the vaccination of millions of children was seen as a holiday, with music and sports as a sidelight.
Even more remarkable was Dr. de Quadros’s diplomatic ability. In several countries where there were wars or rebel insurgencies, he was able to persuade the combatants to lay down their arms in the cause of public health.
“Ciro met with rebel leaders from El Salvador in a bar in Georgetown,” Jon K. Andrus, deputy director of the Pan American Health Organization, recalled in an interview. “He said if you just stop fighting one day, it will benefit everybody. Ciro was a hero in that sense.”
He called the truce “days of tranquility,” when public health workers could go into the countryside without fear and vaccinate children against polio. Even the feared Shining Path guerrilla group in Peru agreed to take part.
The last known case of polio in the Western Hemisphere was recorded in Peru in 1991.
“I think what Ciro accomplished in the Americas was nothing short of miraculous,” Henderson said. “I’ve never seen anyone else who could do what Ciro did.”
Ciro Carlos Araujo de Quadros was born Jan. 30, 1940, in Rio Pardo, Brazil. He graduated from medical school in 1966 at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul in Porto Alegre, Brazil.
While working for the Brazilian public health service, he developed an interest in epidemiology and infectious diseases. He received a master of public health degree in 1968 from the National School of Public Health in Rio de Janeiro.
Dr. de Quadros left the Pan American Health Organization in 2002, after turning his attention to eradicating measles from the Americas.
A year later, he joined the Sabin Vaccine Institute, where he was an executive vice president. At the time of his death, he was still seeking ways to eliminate infectious diseases around the world.
Dr. de Quadros kept working until about a month ago. He gave hundreds of presentations around the world and was known to heads of state, but he was also likely to show up in remote locations, talking with nurses about local health problems.
“My field experience has taught me to listen to fieldworkers,” he told the Lancet in 2001. “You have to pay attention to everybody, because you cannot predict who will come up with the good idea.”
Survivors include his wife of 34 years, Susana Figueroa de Quadros of Washington; two daughters, Julia de Quadros of Goa, India, and Christina de Quadros of Washington; and two stepsons, Marcello Boggio and Alvaro Boggio, both of Lima, Peru.
Henderson, who was Dr. de Quadros’s boss in Ethiopia in the 1970s, estimated that Dr. de Quadros helped prevent the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people through his immunization efforts.
“I watched him perform in Ethiopia,” Henderson told the New York Times in 2011. “The obstacles were unbelievable — the emperor assassinated, two revolutionary groups fighting, nine of his own teams kidnapped, even a helicopter captured and held for ransom. He kept the teams in the field — and that helicopter pilot went out and vaccinated all the rebels.”