Dianthus Medical Blog Archive

Last week's big news story

There was an absolutely huge story in the news last week. Can you guess which one I mean?

It wasn't the Chilean miners. That was a big story, of course, and utterly heartwarming to see it have such a happy ending, but the story I'm thinking of is of much greater significance. And it certainly wasn't Margaret Thatcher's 85th birthday, although you may have missed that. In a beautiful little piece of irony, it was knocked off the news by the story of a country looking after its miners.

Was it all the leaks about what was going to be in yesterday's Comprehensive Spending Review? Well, obviously some important stuff there, but no, that's not it either.

You may have missed this story altogether. I only found it buried deep in the science pages of the BBC News website. I didn't see it on the TV or hear it on the radio at all, and I'm pretty sure it didn't make the front pages of any of the newspapers.

The story to which I refer is the news that the UN Food and Agrigulture Organisation have declared that rinderpest has now been eradicated.

This really is huge news. I cannot understand why it was not the lead item in every news outlet on the day it emerged last week. Rinderpest, although not dangerous to humans, is a really serious disease in cattle, with mortality rates approaching 100%. Before it was eradicated, it used to cause utter devastation to herds of cattle in many countries in Africa. Can you imagine being a small-scale cattle farmer in a developing country, totally dependent on your herd for your livelihood, and then seeing that herd completely destroyed within a few days?

Well, now you no longer have to. Rinderpest is gone. Eradicated. Just like smallpox. And that's the only thing that it is just like. Rinderpest is only the second infectious disease ever to be eradicated. Smallpox was eradicated in the 1970s, in what some would consider to be the greatest triumph of public health of the 20th century, and no other disease has been eradicated since then. So to have eradicated disease number 2 is absolutely huge news.

Now I must confess I had no idea this was coming. If you had asked me before last week which would be the second disease to be eradicated, I would have wrongly answered "polio". The WHO had originally hoped to eradicated polio by 2000, but unfortunately that date keeps slipping. I am sure polio will be eradicated eventually, but it may take a few years yet.

Why was rinderpest not all over the news? Sadly, the only reason I can think of is that diseases that mainly affect the lives of people in developing countries are just not considered newsworthy by western media. That's a shame.

But trust me, the eradication of rinderpest really is the most amazing piece of good news that we've heard in a very long time.

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