Intended for healthcare professionals


Davida Coady: humanitarian paediatrician, political activist, and recovering alcoholic

BMJ 2018; 361 doi: (Published 28 June 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;361:k2804
  1. Ned Stafford
  1. Hamburg, Germany

As a paediatrician and then, later in her career, as an addiction treatment specialist, Davida Coady’s mission in life was to do “the greatest good for the greatest number of people,” a principle she attributed to the British philosopher John Stuart Mill.

Inspired by the life of Albert Schweitzer and his work in Africa, Coady for more than two decades risked her life flying in rickety aeroplanes to war zones and disaster areas to provide medical care—and her love—to children in nearly 35 countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. She also trained local healthcare workers, led infectious disease control efforts, and worked to improve nutrition. She was affiliated at various times with the Peace Corps, the World Health Organization, the World Bank, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency), and many other voluntary agencies.

In order to promote help for children and adults in the developing world, she was often in personal contact with politicians and high level government officials, such as the late US senator Ted Kennedy, and famous human rights activists, such as actor Martin Sheen and Bianca Jagger, the Nicaragua born former wife of rock star Mick Jagger.

Making the world better

In Coady’s recently published memoir, The Greatest Good, which she completed while in the final stages of terminal ovarian cancer, she writes: “I have a gut feeling and a belief that one should leave the world a better place than one found it, in some ways, and that our lives are worth very little if we don’t do something to make the world better.”1

In addition to her medical work, Coady also tried to make the world a better place as a political activist. Arrested more than 50 times, she protested against nuclear proliferation, against global food giant Nestlé …

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