Eradication of Diseases


# Empirical View

Encyclopedia entries on some of the most destructive diseases known to mankind are now written in past tense because they’ve been eradicated and are no longer a threat. Some other diseases we will hopefully eradicate in the near future include:1

Diseases that have been eradicated are Smallpox and Rinderpest.
Diseases for which eradication is underway for Poliomyelitis (polio), Dracunculiasis
Regionally eliminated or under way are Hookworm, Malaria, Lymphatic filariasis, Measles, Rubella, Onchocerciasis, Yaws, BSE

# Smallpox

The Wikipedia entry on smallpox is here (the pictures are graphic).

It is hard to estimate the number of polio victims in the past. Hays (2005)2 writes: “No reliable estimate of the disease’s complete eighteenth-century toll exists, but the deaths certainly numbered in the millions. According to one estimate smallpox was claiming 400,000 European lives a year by the end of the 18th century – at a time when the population of the continent numbered less than 200 million.”
In the last decade of the 18th century, life expectancy was 32 in France and 40.5 in Denmark (see the data by Floud, Fogel, Harris, and Hong (2011) and the Our World in Data entry on life expectancy). Assuming an average life expectancy of 35 means that of the 200 million people 5.7 million died per year. This means that smallpox was the cause of death of 7% of Europeans at that time.

But the history of smallpox is obviously much longer – Pharaoh Ramses V. might be the oldest known victim.3

Today smallpox is a disease of the past. “The last known natural case was in Somalia in 1977. Since then, the only known cases were caused by a laboratory accident in 1978 in Birmingham, England, which killed one person and caused a limited outbreak. Smallpox was officially declared eradicated in 1979.”4


# Deaths from smallpox per 1000 deaths from all causes in London, 1629 to 1900 – Fenner, Henderson, Arita, Jezek, and Ladnyi (1988)5


# Effect of vaccine on smallpox – smallpox deaths per million population in Sweden between 1722 and 1843, showing from 1820 onwards the proportion of newborn children who were vaccinated in infancy – Fenner, Henderson, Arita, Jezek, and Ladnyi (1988)6

Effect of Vaccine on Smallpox – Sweden - Fenner, Henderson, Arita, Jezek, and Ladnyi (1988)0

# Eradication of smallpox – year in which smallpox ceased to be endemic in each country – Max Roser7

# Rinderpest

Information on the eradication of Rinderpest can be found on Wikipedia and on Wikivet.

The FAO’s Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme (GREP)

# Video of a world map showing outbreaks of rinderpest between the year 376 and the eradication in 2011 – World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE)8


# Polio

Poliomyelitis – also called polio or infantile paralysis – is eradicated from many parts of the world and will hopefully be eradicated globally in the near future. The reduction in polio cases was made possible by polio vaccines developed in the 1950s.

# World maps showing the progress in eradicating polio, 1988, 2002 & 2012 – WHO/Global Polio Eradication Initiative9


# Progress in polio eradication, estimated and reported polio cases, 1985-2011 – WHO10

Progress-in-Polio-Eradication,-Estimated-and-Reported-Polio-Cases,-1985-2011-–-WHOA life ticker on Polio cases worldwide can be found here on

India was declared polio free in 2014 – here is a BBC report on this story.

# Numbers of publications about polio by year, 1890 to 1986 – Cambridge World History of Human Diseases11

Data-on-the-Numbers-of-publications-about-polio-by-year,-1890-to-1986-–-Cambridge-World-History-of-Human-DiseasesFascinating is the story of the Australian nurse Robin Miller who, at the age of 26, borrowed money to buy a plane and flew to the outback to eradicate polio. She died due to cancer at the young age of 35. and provide data

# Guinea Worm Disease

Information on guinea worm disease – dracunculiasis – can be found here at the WHO website.

# Annual number of dracunculiasis (guinea worm disease) cases worldwide, 1989–2013 – Max Roser12

Full screen view Download Data

# Tetanus

# World map showing the progress in eliminating maternal and neonatal tetanus (MNT) – WHO13

World Map showing the Progress in eliminating Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus (MNT) – WHO

# Malaria

On Our World in Data I have a data entry dedicated to malaria.

Two visualisations that show how Malaria is being reduced around the world are reproduced here. The world map shows that Malaria used to prevalent in much larger parts of the world and has been successfully eradicated in many parts of the world.

# World map of past and current malaria prevalence – World Development Report (2009)14 World Map of past and current Malaria prevalence – World Development Report (2009)

The time series plot below shows that while the population in developing is increasing not only the share but also the absolute number of people dying from Malaria is now decreasing.

# Total global malaria deaths by WHO region, since 2000 – Max Roser15

Full screen view Download Data


# Data Sources

For data on Malaria see the data entry dedicated to Malaria here.