A World Without of Disease
The potential of a world without disease is a tantalising offer! For many diseases it may actually be possible. The concept is known as disease eradication, the permanent drop in the number of worldwide cases of a disease to zero. That’s quite a weirdly specific definition though, why is that? Another term that can be used is the extinction of a disease. Both eradication and extinction mean that no one is getting sick from the disease but with extinction, the bacteria or virus that causes the disease literally doesn’t exist on the face of our earth. If a disease is eradicated, it can still be present in nature and even in laboratories as samples or bacteria cultures, it just isn’t in the human population. Basically, eradication means that governments still have samples of the virus or bacteria in labs just in case they need to make more vaccines if it comes back.
A good idea but is it possible?
Too date, two diseases have been successfully eradicated. The first was smallpox in humans. Smallpox was an infectious viral disease that in 20 to 60 percent of cases was lethal, this was as high as 80 percent in children. In 1959, The World Health Organisation put in motion a plan to eradicate smallpox and in 1975 we saw our last natural case of the disease. This only took 16 years achieve.
The second disease to be eradicated was Rinderpest. Rinderpest is viral disease that infected many animals, including cattle, buffalo, antelope, deer, and even giraffes. Eradication efforts started in the early 1900s and it wasn’t until 2001 that we saw our last case of Rinderpest in Kenya.
Eradicating disease sounds great, why have we only done it twice?
There are three major hurdles when it comes to eradicating a disease; is it e three major hurdles when it comes to eradicating a disease; is it e three major hurdles when it comes to eradicating a disease; is it biological possible, is financially viable, and is socially viable.
To be biologically possible, we must be able to effectively prevent the spread of disease. This is often done by using vaccines to help promote immunity. There also needs to be diagnostic tools available so we can properly detect cases. If we can properly detect, prevent, and treat cases then the job of eradicating a disease becomes much easier. This can be difficult however, if people can become infected without showing symptoms or if the disease can spread through animal populations, it becomes a lot harder to control because we only see a smaller percentage of the cases.
To be financially viable, the plan for eradication must not cost too much, pretty simple. For example, mumps is highly infectious disease that exists globally. It is estimated that to eradicate mumps that we would need to vaccinate over 95% of the population. 95% of 7.6 billion people is a financially unrealistic target. Especially for poorer socioeconomic countries. We also need to weigh up the cost to benefit of eradicating the disease. Some diseases, such as the common cold have a very low impact on public health. This makes it not worth eradicating, as the benefit gained would not be worth the billions, if not trillions, of dollars required to do it.
Finally, we have the social boundaries. This mainly refers to the political challenges associated with a global effort like eradication of a disease. It’s incredibly hard to get multiple countries to make the same level of commitment. Different countries are also likely to have different ideas about the best plan for handling an eradication program. The catch is that eradication plans require everyone to cooperate, if even one country doesn’t commit then the disease will still exist preventing eradication.
Whilst there is a lot more that determines how practical it is to eradicate a disease, the main take away is that it’s difficult, very difficult. There are currently a few diseases being targeted for eradication. They are polio, malaria, yaws, and Dracunculiasis. Polio, in particular, is incredibly close to eradication, in 2016 there were only 37 reported cases of polio. Back in 1980, this number was over 50,000! Whilst we are not quite there yet, we are incredibly close.