Cofounder of ProMED-mail
LONDON, U.K.––Jack Woodall, 81, perhaps the most influential person in the animal welfare field whose name almost no one involved in animal welfare recognized, whose work helped to save countless human and animal lives, died on October 24, 2016 in London, England, where he was under treatment for pancreatic cancer.
Cofounder in 1994 of the Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases, better known to more than 80,000 daily readers as ProMED-mail, Woodall throughout his career was near the epicenter of outbreaks of new, terrifying, and little-known or unknown illnesses, some of which have killed multi-millions of humans and animals.
No matter how virulent and horrifying the disease, Woodall emphasized calmly gathering the facts about it and planning the response most likely to relieve and prevent the suffering and death of all sentient species involved.
Discouraged “kill them all!” responses
Time and again Woodall and his ProMED colleagues have discouraged kneejerk, panic-driven “kill them all!” attempts to eradicate disease by exterminating the entire population of an animal species at risk.
In the early years of ProMED-mail the practice of “stamping out” disease outbreaks was seldom questioned, even when it involved practices as cruel and futile as burying thousands of pigs alive and burning tens of thousands of poultry alive in attempts to eradicate hoof-and-mouth disease and the deadly H5N1 avian influenza which were foredoomed to failure because they did not accurately address the means by which the maladies spread.
“Stamping out” as of 1994 was usually still conducted, as it had been since the origins of germ theory more than 1,300 years earlier, by killing not only animals known to have been exposed to illness, but also many others in surrounding regions––and accurately identifying the species involved was often neglected.
Thus the discovery of SARS, for example, which apparently crossed into humans from civet cats in 2003, led to purges of house cats in parts of Asia, even though civets and felines are not only of different species but not even closely related.
Recruited best minds in the field
By 2003 that sort of misdirected mass killing had begun receding into history, largely through Woodall’s work and that of the many other ProMED moderators he recruited from among the best-respected minds in zoonotic disease research.
Emphasizing rapid identification of outbreaks, precision in identifying hosts and disease-carrying organisms such as microbes and viruses, and targeted vaccination or other appropriate prophylactic measures, Woodall and ProMED-mail were and are at the forefront of changing the practices of epidemiological response worldwide, much to the benefit of every sort of animal as well as humans.
From 40 members to 80,000
Said Larry Madoff, who succeeded Woodall as ProMED-mail senior editor, “To say that Jack was critically important to ProMED-mail’s birth, growth, and successes would be a vast understatement. His creativity and foresight led to ProMED’s creation, to building it from its 40 original members to the over 80,000 we have today. On his watch, ProMED grew from a handful of dedicated volunteers in 1994 to more than 50 professionals in 35 countries today.”
In particular, Madoff recognized, “Jack saw early on that many emerging pathogens were zoonotic,” meaning that they originated in animals, “and that you could not begin to understand emerging infectious diseases without understanding the health of agricultural animals, wildlife, and the environment.”
Encouraged ANIMALS 24-7
For that reason, Woodall welcomed ANIMALS 24-7 editor Merritt Clifton into ProMED only a few weeks after ProMED debuted, and became an enthusiastic ANIMALS 24-7 reader, information source, and mostly behind-the-scenes commentator.
Woodall frequently encouraged the ANIMALS 24-7 effort to get individuals and agencies addressing rabies in India to use up-to-date information, in place of a guesstimate of 20,000 human rabies deaths per year which dates to research done in 1911 and by now appears to be about a hundredfold too high.
Woodall in his last communications to ANIMALS 24-7 exchanged ideas about vaccine administration by dart, discussed the difficulty of tranquilizing animals such as the Cincinnati Zoo gorilla Harambe (shot in May 2016) in crisis situations, and––in his final message––thanked ANIMALS 24-7 for our continued attention to the public health and epidemiological aspects of pit bull proliferation.
“Your stuff is always worth reading,” Woodall wrote.
Traveling the world to the action
Continued Madoff, “Jack was a type they don’t make anymore: The dashing Cambridge/London School-trained Brit traveling the world to where the action was — perhaps a little bit of a James Bond. Indeed, when I was to meet Jack for the first time at a hotel bar, he described himself, tongue only slightly in cheek, as looking like Sean Connery.”
Madoff was scarcely the first or only person to note the James Bond-ish aspects of Woodall’s career.
Recalled ProMED-mail senior technical editor Maria Jacobs, “In 2001, when I started working for ProMED as copy editor and translator for the Spanish regional page, Norman Stein, executive director of the International Society for Infectious Diseases, of which ProMED has been a program since 1999, gave me a copy of the 1998 novel The Eleventh Plague: A Novel of Medical Terror, by John S. Marr and John Baldwin. The story’s protagonist is Dr. Jack Byrne [surely our Jack], a noted virologist who heads the ProMED computer hotline and flies about the planet fighting epidemics. The authors give ‘particular thanks to Jack Woodall for providing inspiration.’”
Often Woodall’s work involved danger, and not just from the deadly diseases he was researching.
“I’ll never forget standing at the side of a cattle slaughter platform in Ibadan, Nigeria, in the half-light of dawn,” Woodall told ANIMALS 24-7, “with slaughtermen wielding machetes with gay abandon, me holding sterile McCartney flasks under the slashed carotids to collect blood for virus studies. It was a miracle to me that nobody lost an arm or a leg in the chaos. We also tried to collect ticks from the carcasses afterwards.”
Woodall was at the time researching Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever. Eventually Woodall and other ProMED participants established that Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever is an occupational illness of livestock handlers and slaughtermen in much of the world because the ticks who carry the Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever virus leap from dying livestock to nearby humans––and because the virus itself travels from animal to human with spurting and splashing blood.
Woodall received the Richard M. Taylor award for lifetime achievements in arbovirology, meaning the study of viruses transmitted by ticks, spiders, and other arthropods, from the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene two weeks before his death.
Born in China
Actually named John Payne Woodall, but almost never called anything but Jack, Woodall recalled to ANIMALS 24-7 that he “was born in Tianjin on the China coast of British parents.”
Elaborated his wife Mary Crawshaw, known in her own right for philanthropic work in Brazil, “Jack’s parents were there because his mother’s parents had been missionaries there and his father had gone out as headmaster of the International/British School [in Tianjin]. They had been told to leave China and were booked on a ship leaving from Shanghai to sail back to the United Kingdom, but when they got there some influential Chinese had taken their tickets and so there was no room for them.”
That was just the beginning of the Woodall family’s wartime ordeal.
Empire of the Sun
“My mother, pregnant with my younger brother, entered the British Hospital on December 1, 1941,” Woodall continued. “Peter was born on December 2, after the hospital had been occupied overnight and renamed the Japanese Imperial Hospital of Tientsin, the city’s former name.
“Ever see the movie Empire of the Sun?” Woodall asked. “We were all together in that civilian internment camp outside Shanghai for the rest of the war.”
Resumed Crawshaw, “They left for England when the war was over,” in 1945. “Jack always said that it was while he was in prison camp that he was able to wander in a derelict space overgrown with weeds, where he took an interest in insects that a doctor in the camp identified for him, and that started his interest in science.”
Said Woodall, “I was educated at Bedford School and Clare College Cambridge, and obtained my Ph.D. in entomology and virology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine in 1956. My first post-graduate position was as a member of Her Majesty’s Overseas Research Service, working at the East African Virus Research Institute in Entebbe, the-then colonial capital of Uganda. There I was Cubmaster of the only inter-racial Cub Scout pack in the country, member of the Town Council, special constable with the police force, and entertainment secretary of the Entebbe Club. My work involved yellow fever and discovery of new viruses,” including the now infamous Zika virus.
Became U.S. citizen
“I had visited Brazil as a member of the Cambridge University Amazon Expedition 1954,” Woodall continued, “and after Uganda became independent, I returned to Brazil in 1965 as director of the Rockefeller Foundation Virus Laboratory in Belém, Pará, where again I carried out research on yellow fever and discovery of new viruses. I left Belém in 1971 to work for the New York State Department of Health on mosquito- and tick-borne viruses.”
“Jack got his U.S. citizenship,” Crenshaw said, “when he had worked for nine years with the Rockefeller Foundation [in New York City] and they said he could only remain with them if he took out U.S. citizenship.”
Beginning in 1975, Woodall was for five years director of the San Juan Laboratories in Puerto Rico, operated by the Centers for Disease Control by the U.S. Public Health Service.
WHO, what, where?
Woodall then served with distinction in a variety of leadership roles with the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland.
“I travelled extensively,” Woodall remembered, “leading teams to assist developing countries in improving their health laboratories, health services management, primary health care, and health financing. I introduced the WHO program on AIDS to four African countries.”
Retiring from WHO in 1994, Woodall returned to the New York State Department of Health, contributing to the identification and understanding Lyme disease and ehrlichiosis until 1988, when he returned to Brazil as director of the Nucleus for the Investigation of Emerging Infectious Diseases at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
Woodall and Crenshaw remained in Rio de Janeiro after Woodall retired from that position in 2007.
But retirement scarcely meant less activity.
“In 2003,” Woodall recalled, “I joined the One Health Initiative team, a pro bono clearing house for global information about the One Health concept, bringing human and veterinary medicine and environmental health workers together to combat the many challenges posed by human diseases emerging from animal reservoirs.”
ANIMALS 24-7 is among the member organizations.
Wrote ProMED deputy editor Marjorie Pollak, “ProMED was Jack’s baby and for those of us in the ProMED family he was and will always be the father of ProMED. He, along with [Columbia University epidemiologist] Stephen Morse, and [molecular biologist] Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, were the founders of the Program to Monitor Emerging Diseases, launched in August 1994 in response to the 1991 Institute of Medicine review on Emerging Infectious Diseases that concluded there were significant weaknesses in global disease surveillance. Early moderators joining Jack included Charlie Calisher and Martin Hugh-Jones.”
“Good info & crap”
Wrote Calisher, who heads the Center for Infection and Immunity at the Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences in Fort Collins, “I do not even remember when I first met Jack. Certainly, it was long before 1994, when I joined ProMED as moderator at Jack’s invitation. He and I put together the only e-mail addresses we had and formed a list of people who might be interested in receiving ProMED mail each day. It was a very short list, perhaps 25 names. It grew like Topsy, of course, and pretty soon we were inundated with good information and crap, so we had to be careful to either not post some messages or to post them with comments indicating that we would like more definitive information before we would accept it as fact. That was tough sledding.
“Jack was probably not sleeping”
“I was working 10-12 hours each day after work and Jack was probably not sleeping at all,” Calisher continued. “I roomed with him at the American Society of Hygiene & Tropical Health meetings each year for decades and, if I awoke in the middle of the night, there would be Jack, working on his laptop, getting one more message out. He was not compulsive, he was devoted, to ProMED and to the dissemination of information. We both considered that information should be freely available to all.”
Calisher has also been a strong supporter of ANIMALS 24-7 and information provider and commenter, along with many other members of the ProMED community, including the late Craig Pringle, a longtime ProMED virology moderator; animal disease moderators Martin Hugh-Jones, Pablo Beldomenico, Peter Cowen, and Arnon Shimshony; viral disease moderator Tom Yuill; parasitic diseases moderator Eskild Petersen; plant and animal diseases correspondent Susan Baekeland; One Health Initiative cofounder Bruce Kaplan, DVM; and frequent ProMED contributor and former moderator Shamsudeen Fagbo.
Fascinating article! Thank you, and thank you Jack Woodall for your inspired work!