Dr. Ameyo Stella Adadevoh, 1956-2014
I would be remiss if I let International Women's Day go by without a word about the goddesses of Flublogia.
Flublogia is a small province in the Empire of Hypochondria, inhabited by people who ignore loud detonations but jump out of their skins at whispers of undiagnosed outbreaks far away. As one of its (literally) oldest residents, I consider myself among the chief worshippers in our pantheon.
When you study our deities, you may soon notice that the only male among them is Zhong Nanshan, Foe of SARS and Scourge of H5N1. All the others, and they are blessedly numerous, are females.
I won't name them; I am old enough to remember when my Columbia College roommate Paris of Troy made his fatal Judgment of the Greek goddesses (all Barnard undergrads, by the way—poor Paris got in way over his depth). We all know how that turned out, and Flublogia's goddesses often lunch with the Eumenides. If I mentioned them all but forgot even one, I would surely be the main course at their next lunch. But they know who they are.
Women have played an enormous and under-recognized role in modern global health, and some of them have taught me more than I ever expected to learn: journalists on the health beat, science writers, virologists, epidemiologists, teachers, leaders of major NGOs and the staffers of those NGOs in their treatment centres for Ebola and cholera, the Pakistani polio fighters who risk their lives every day, the expatriate nurses in Saudi Arabia fighting MERS, and countless others. Flublogia, when I think of it, has more goddesses than worshippers.
And when I think of it a little more, I'll name two of my goddesses without too much fear of divine retribution. Dr. Margaret Chan, who shut down the first H5N1 outbreak in Hong Kong in 1997, has taken her share of criticism as Director General of WHO, but the world still owes her for her courageous decision 20 years ago to smother the outbreak.
The other is Dr. Ameyo Stella Adadevoh, who stopped Ebola from spreading into Nigeria at the cost of her own life. Like too many of her sisters in the Ebola treatment centres of Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, she died that we might live.
Gentlemen, stand up, hats off, and bow your heads when the goddesses pass by.