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Eradicating disease

Although there are plenty of diseases left, in a relatively short space of time we have been able to reduce the occurrence of or even be on the way to eliminating some diseases and do away with the human pain and suffering which accompanied them.

Smallpox

The last case of smallpox was diagnosed in 1977. It took quite a long time for us to get there. The vaccine was discovered back in the 1780s. It took nearly 200 years, but since the late 1980s, we have stopped vaccinating against the disease as there is no longer any need.

However, there does remain a concern. Laboratories in the US and Russia still have strains of the smallpox virus. A deliberate or accidental release would constitute a major risk to the population born after vaccinations were stopped.

Measles

This is another disease which could be prevented with vaccination. The result is that it has not been eradicated although it could be. Areas where it is not possible to get the vaccine, is one reason why there are outbreaks.

More contentiously, there were 600 cases of measles in the US mostly spread by those who declined to vaccinate their children because they were afraid this would cause autism (which is not true).

Rubella

Rubella doesn’t sound so bad when you read that it causes a rash and cold like symptoms in young people and adults. But to first-trimester unborn babies the effects can be devastating. Deafness, blindness and perhaps brain damage are all a possibility.

This disease has been eradicated in the US but there are still 120,000 cases a year elsewhere in the world.

Polio

Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria are the three countries where polio is still endemic. This puts it onto the list of major diseases which could be eradicated.

Polio eats away at the nerve fibers which allow us to move and more significantly to breath.

Malaria

Malaria literally means bad air – which was thought to be the root cause of the illness with symptoms of fever, tiredness, vomiting, and headaches. The problem was that once the virus caught hold, the symptoms would get better for a while and then return again. In severe cases, they could cause seizures and death

Europe, North America, Australia, North Africa and the Caribbean, and parts of South America, Asia and Southern Africa have all been declared Malaria free by the World Health Organization and with the continued effort the rest of the world will be too.

Setting targets

A global cooperation which takes place from a government level down and spearheaded by the World Health Organization is helping more preventable diseases in their tracks. Cuba and other Caribbean countries, for example, have eradicated mother-to-baby passed syphilis.

Foundations like the Carter Foundation or the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have done much to limit the damage from River Blindness and Guinea worm. The story is not over yet, we have not even totally eradicated something as basic as scurvy. But it is to our collective credit to try.