Which four diseases face total eradication? Bill Foege predicts extension of smallpox success

Bill Foege

Smallpox was, until today, the only disease that had ever been eradicated from the planet.

The United Nations today declared that rinderpest, a cattle disease that when prevalent had profound adverse impact on humanity, is now the second disease to have been eradicated.

Bill Foege, one of our local boys made good, is a big fan of disease eradication.

Foege is the world-renowned physician who figured out the strategy that succeeded in wiping out smallpox. He is featured in an interview on disease eradication on PRI’s The World today “How to Kill a KIller Disease.”

Here’s a story I did almost a year ago about Foege on the 30th anniversary of the eradication of smallpox. You may notice that PRI used the same photo — a photo I took of Bill in Colville, Eastern Washington, where he grew up.

Foege, a former chief of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and now a senior adviser to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has written a fascinating book on the global campaign to eradicate smallpox called “House on Fire.” On PRI, he predicted that four more diseases will be eradicated soon.

“I think maybe six diseases will be eradicated before I die,” said Foege, listing the next four as polio, guinea worm, measles and onchocerciasis (river blindness). What about malaria?

“Malaria may take a little longer … but we need to try to eradicate malaria and I’m very optimistic about it,” he said.

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Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.