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What does it take to eradicate a disease?


Eradication versus Elimination versus Control
President Jimmy Carter and wife Rosalynn pass out an insecticidal bed net, which prevents malaria, in the remote village of Afeta in southwest Ethiopia.
President Jimmy Carter and wife Rosalynn pass out an insecticidal bed net, which prevents malaria, in the remote village of Afeta in southwest Ethiopia.
The Carter Center

You now know that not all diseases can be eradicated. But, that doesn't mean they can't all be managed to a certain extent. Most diseases can be eradicated, eliminated or controlled. Here's how to differentiate them.

  • Eradication is the complete annihilation of a disease due to methodical efforts. True eradication usually involves eliminating the microbe itself or completely preventing its occurrence in nature.
  • Elimination is the process of stopping the spread of a disease in a country or continent or other restricted area, such as an island. It's also possible to stop people from contracting a disease while the microorganism remains alive in nature, such as with neonatal tetanus.
  • Control is a method for reducing the frequency of a disease, but has to be an ongoing effort.

In the end, achieving the lofty goal of total disease eradication is difficult, rarely possible and costly. But when achieved, it can save and improve millions of lives. Just look to Guinea worm disease for inspiration. Hundreds of millions of dollars and decades after the effort to eradicate began, Guinea worm is now found in only four African countries: Sudan, Ghana, Mali and Ethiopia. That means only 3,190 cases left to cure. May the countdown begin.


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