Eradication of smallpox is the best known example of WHO’s accomplishments. Indeed, the benefits of smallpox eradication for public health are very impressive. In 1967, when WHO started international eradication efforts, smallpox, was estimated to have afflicted up to 15 million people annually, of whom some two million died with millions more left disfigured and sometimes blind. With the amazing global cooperation, in 1980, WHO was able to certify that the disease had been eradicated.
If smallpox were not eradicated, there would have been 350 million new victims in the past 20 years -- roughly the combined population of the USA and Mexico -- and an estimated 40 million deaths -- a figure equal to the entire population of Spain or South Africa.(WHO http://www.who.int/topics/smallpox/en/
The eradication of smallpox happened in such a short period of time as seen in this figure. This demonstrated for the first time that humans could eliminate a deadly health menace in less than a century
Pictures taken from lectures Modeling Potential Response to Smallpox by Martin Meltzer, CDC, USA http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/eid/vol7no6/meltzer.htm
Microbial threats to health in the US http://www.pitt.edu/~super1/lecture/lec6991/index.htm by Joshua Lederberg
Tuberculosis has been one of the most feared diseases of man. It has been a killer for centuries. As seen it has been called the “White plague” and consumption as the angel of death ripped across countries such as Ireland
Tuberculosis has demonstrated a similar decline, however this was not due to vaccination as with small pox. In about 1880 Koch identified the Tubercle Bacillus. However it was not until the early 1950s that a vaccine was available. However, 90% of TB cases were prevented. How could this be?
It has been hypothesized that better living condition slowed the spread of disease. In addition public health improvements such as reducing transmission and improved nutrition has had a major impact on reducing TB. However, we are not sure, we do know that the decline has been rapid, and a major event for improving health world wide.
We are pleased that many of the disease menaces throughout history, are or becoming history. Most of these have been due to public health and prevention, not clinical medicine.