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In the fall of 1977, the world health community recorded what was considered the very last case of naturally transmitted smallpox on Earth. Three years later, the world was declared officially free of this deadly infectious disease. This event marked what some view as one of the most remarkable achievements of modern science.
Global Disease Eradication is in part about the smallpox victory and the end game that followed, but it is also a look into the debate surrounding global disease eradication, a goal that many in the world health community see as the ultimate achievement of public health.
The authors present the history of three separate campaigns to eradicate a major infectious disease worldwide. The first, against malaria, though undertaken with ambition and optimism, ultimately failed: at the beginning of the 21st century, malaria threatens the health of over 2,400 million people worldwide. In contrast, the campaign against smallpox succeeded for a wide variety of reasons. Now public health workers are within a hair's breadth of eradicating polio -- the third campaign -- but tremendous uncertainties still surround the effort.
Whether these monumental global campaigns should be undertaken remains an open question. What is the value of global disease eradication if, as with smallpox, it ultimately leaves the world's population susceptible to accidental or intentional reintroduction of the disease? What are the costs of an eradication program, both direct and indirect, as resources are funneled into a single purpose at the cost of other priorities? What are the challenges involved in actually stopping a disease in its tracks?
Needham and Canning contribute a clear evaluation of the social, political, scientific, and economic considerations, both for the three specific campaigns described and for all future efforts toward protecting every child worldwide for deadly infectious diseases.