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220 × 150 × 29 mm
312 pages
01 Aug 2011

Eradication Ridding the World of Diseases Forever? Nancy Leys Stepan

The dream of a world completely free of disease may seem utopian. Yet eradication, used in its modern sense to mean the reduction of the number of cases of a disease to zero by deliberate public health interventions, has been pursued repeatedly. Campaigns against yellow fever, malaria and smallpox have been among the largest, most costly programmes ever undertaken in international public health. But only one so far has been successful – that against smallpox. Are such costly programmes really justifiable? In 2007 Bill and Melinda Gates surprised the world with the announcement that they were committing their Foundation to eradicating malaria. Polio eradication is another of their priorities. This book places these ambitious goals in their broad historical and contemporary context.

Eradication is the first comprehensive account of the major disease-eradication campaigns from the early twentieth century right up to the present. Its narrative follows the life and times of the American arch-eradicationist, Dr Fred Lowe Soper (1893-1977), who was at the centre of many of the campaigns and controversies surrounding eradication in his lifetime. Eradication is, of course, only one approach to improving people’s health, and debates and quarrels between proponents of Primary Health Care approaches to ill-health versus the eradicationists’ approach have often been intense. Nancy Leys Stepan, known for her authoritative books in the history of medicine, suggests that today the two approaches may be complementary rather than in conflict.

This book is written for the general reader interested in the urgent problems of health and disease around the world, as well as for specialists in the field.

‘In Eradication noted medical historian Nancy Leys Stepan objectively explores the origin, development of, and controversy surrounding eradication programmes during the past century warts and all . . . This book should be required reading for all who are concerned with global health development Stepan offers a uniquely knowledgeable insight into the evolution and controversies intrinsic to the important idea of eradication and its contributions to world health.’ — Donald A. Henderson, The Lancet

‘Stepan uses a historical context to examine todays global infectious disease control efforts, the impact of the new philanthro-capitalists on international health priorities and processes, and the push toward new eradication targets. She raises important questions about whether it is ethical to devote massive resources toward single-disease programs rather than supporting health infrastructure development more generally. This well-written, accessible book is about the future of global health as much as it is about the history of public health.’ — Choice

‘Stepan has written an important and fascinating book on the evolution of disease eradication. She follows the concept from the early twentieth century, when science held huge promise, to the recent pledge by the Gates Foundation to eradicate malaria. The book serves as a reality check for anyone vulnerable to the seductions of noble goals and modern science. Stepan raises a series of provocative questions. For example, would the vast resources spent on eradication campaigns have bought more health if they had been devoted instead to strengthening health systems?’ — Health Affairs

‘Do focused disease eradication attempts or more broadly based primary health-care efforts produce better results? Stepan discusses this question in light of todays more foundation-driven public-health world, including the Gates Foundations declared goal to eradicate malaria. Her conclusion is that eradication efforts should be exceptional and rare. For those working in or interested in public health, this book offers a well-documented look at both the history and the current challenges of eradication.’ — Library Journal

‘It would be difficult to overestimate the value of Nancy Leys Stepans Eradication: Ridding the World of Disease. The book should be required reading for anyone interested in global health past or present. Clearly written and persuasively argued, Stepan provides not just a significant account of the history of eradication, but also deeper insight into the history of international health institutions, imperial and Cold War politics, medical funding and philanthropies, and the globalization of biomedicine.’ — Helen Tilley, historian of medicine and author of Africa as a Living Laboratory: Empire, Development, and the Problem of Scientific Knowledge, 1870-1950

‘It is very important finally to have a history of eradication, especially one of such quality and comprehensiveness that considers local, national, and international experiences. Nancy Leys Stepan is a celebrated scholar who has conducted pathbreaking research on malaria, yellow fever, and smallpox. To eradicate or not to eradicate has been and continues to be an issue of central concern in global health. Stepans history forces us to ask, is it politically wise and socially useful and just to eradicate disease and, if so, what conditions and past experiences must we take into account in deciding which diseases to tackle?’ — Steven Palmer, Canada Research Chair in History of International Health, University of Windsor

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Nancy Leys Stepan is Professor Emeritus of History at Columbia University, New York. Her previous books include The Hour of Eugenics: Race, Gender and Nation (1991) and Picturing Tropical Nature (Reaktion Books, 2002).