Nancy Leys Stepan


On the continued appeal of disease eradication

Cover Interview of January 01, 2012

In this regard, it is instructive to look at the difference between Soper and Donald A. Henderson.

Soper died in 1977, before the last case of smallpox was identified and smallpox eradication was secure; yet despite everything, he remained a convinced eradicationist to the last.

Henderson, who led the Intensified Smallpox Eradication program to success between 1967 and 1977, by contrast, has been generally skeptical that other eradication campaigns are warranted. This year, however, he changed his mind and endorsed the polio eradication effort, ongoing since 1988, and which, though it has reduced the worldwide total of polio cases per year to tantalizingly small numbers, has not yet reached the magic number of zero.

Personally, I think eradication campaigns should be exceptional and rare features of modern international health.

The paths to good health are multiple, and eradication campaigns can be faulted for targeting diseases that are not always of the highest priority in the countries where current eradication campaigns are operating, burdened as they are with so many diseases.

Eradication campaigns are also often too reliant on external donors or “philanthro-capitalists,” absorb too many resources of a country’s health budget (both technical and financial), and do not always generate the kinds of sustained health care capacities poor countries really need.