In October 1977, in the country of Somaliaon the horn of East Africa, a young man named Ali Maow Maalin contracted the world's last case of naturally occurring smallpox. In the succeeding ten years, the disease has made only one appearance-the result of a tragic laboratory accident in Great Britain. Smallpox as a natural enemy of humanity has been expunged from the earth.
Global eradication of smallpox, by any measure, ranks among the great achievements of humankind. Gone, through concerted human effort, is a disease which has brought death to countless millions, repeatedly altered the course of history, and traveled as a dreaded companion through the centuries to every inhabited corner of the world.
Its magnitude has yet to be fully appreciated, just as the toll of the disease itself has tended to be obscured by history's preoccupation with wars and the deeds of rulers.