In the summer of 1978, the World Health Organization stood on the brink of a remarkable achievement—smallpox, the disease that terrorized people for three thousand years and killed millions, had been eradicated through a rigorous mass vaccination program lasting 10 years. The last reported case of smallpox was in October the previous year, ten months ago. A 23-year-old cook named Ali Maow Maalin, working at a hospital in Merca, Somalia, had come down with the disease. Maalin was unvaccinated but made a miraculous recovery. A team of doctors tracked down the vectors responsible for the outbreak leading to further vaccination of more than fifty thousand people.
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A sign outside the Catherine de Barnes isolation hospital in 1978 where the last victim of smallpox was admitted. Image credit: Birminghamlive