October 16, 2010

As of mid 2010, FAO is confident that the rinderpest virus has been eliminated from Europe, Asia, Middle East, Arabian Peninsula, and Africa.
- The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation

On October 14, 2010, the FAO announced that rinderpest, an extremely high mortality disease of cattle, had been completely eradicated. The key breakthrough was Walter Plowright's development of an effective vaccine against rinderpest during the 1960s, for which he won the 1999 World Food Prize. This tool, combined with a world will to bring the threat of rinderpest to an end regardless of wars, drought or recession, successfully eradicated the disease less than five decades later.

Together with smallpox, rinderpest is the second disease to be successfully eradicated through human intervention.

During the same period of time, at least thirty new diseases have emerged for humans alone: SARS, nodding disease, Ebola, AIDS. New strains of cholera and influenza have swept the world. Old companions such as tuberculosis and staphylococci have developed strains which respond to no known antibiotic. If the listing of new diseases is to include those which strike domestic animals, the number soars into the hundreds.

It seems we can make a global difference, if we really want to. Yet we had better decide our priorities soon, or they will be decided for us.

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