by Paul Rogers 

Published on Thursday, May 8, 2014 by Open Democracy

Sixty years ago smallpox was endemic across much of the world, killing two million people each year. In 1959 an international programme to eliminate the virus was started, not least because it was a disease amenable to large-scale vaccination. In 1977, the last case was diagnosed and recorded. It had taken just eighteen years to achieve the elimination of the entire disease in the wild.

This was the first-ever case of a major disease organism being destroyed in the wild, and there has only been one other – far less well-known, but in its own way quite significant. This is rinderpest, a dangerous viral infection most common in cattle but infecting some other species of livestock.  It took several decades to exterminate, but success finally came in 2001.

A third disease has been the target of atempts at total elimination. This is poliomyelitis, which in the 1980s still infected hundreds of thousands of people. Polio, if not a killer on the same scale as smallpox, is particularly prone to attack children and can leave them with severe impairments that can last a lifetime.

Read the full article on Common Dreams.