20th Century - Virology

Nicole Grasset

Nicole Grasset (18 April 1927 – 29 August 2009) was a Swiss-French medical virologist and microbiologist-epidemiologist. Grasset was the senior smallpox advisor for the South-East Asia Regional Office (SEARO) of the World Health Organization (WHO) from 1971 through the end of the WHO smallpox eradication campaign.[1]

Early life

Grasset was the daughter of a famous Swiss microbiologist. She was born in Garches. She is the cousin of doctor Derville Michel. She grew up in South Africa. After studying medicine, she worked at the Pasteur Institute in Paris.[2]

At age 20, she wrote a ‘Plan of Life,’ her life’s mission statement that outlined many of the goals that she would come to achieve.[3]


Eradication of smallpox
Grasset served as SEARO’s principal smallpox adviser and held this post through the achievement and certification of eradication in India and Nepal. She joined the program after working as a Red Cross adviser, a role in which she provided vaccination and medical care in the Nigerian civil war zone of Biafra.

Grasset was charged with coordinating work carried out by the states of SEARO, collecting information and developing policies. The eradication unit set up teams of international and Indian workers, who were given the responsibility of going into the states, searching for cases, and performing containment and vaccination strategies.

She was known for her leadership and strong-willed personality. D.A. Henderson, the person in charge of the World Health Organization eradication unit, described her as an “energetic, determined, charismatic leader”. Henderson recounts that, aside from the nursing staff, she was the only woman in the entire regional office.[4]

In 1977, the last case of smallpox was in reported in Somalia. The smallpox eradication campaign had come to a successful conclusion

Later work

After working on smallpox eradication with people like Larry Brilliant, Grasset went on to help advise the creation of Brilliant’s nonprofit organization, the Seva Foundation.[5]


Referring to her spirit of public service and her impeccable dress-ups, she has been called “one of the great saints, a mother Teresa in a Dior dress”.[6]


  1. ^ “WHO | Smallpox”. Archived from the original on 2007-09-21. Retrieved 2008-08-23.
  2. ^ Tucker, Jonathan. Scourge. New York: Grove Press, 2001.
  3. ^ “Paper”dailygood.org.
  4. ^ Henderson, D.A. “Smallpox—The Death of a Disease”, New York: Prometheus Books, 2009.
  5. ^ “History – Seva Foundation”. Archived from the original on 2014-01-06. Retrieved 2013-12-14.
  6. ^ California, Berkeley Daily Planet, Berkeley. “Seeing the need for a service. Category: Page One from The Berkeley Daily Planet”www.berkeleydailyplanet.com.

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