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The End of Smallpox

More than two years into the Covid-19 pandemic, people are getting used to the idea that the virus isn’t going to disappear. Scientists predict that Covid-19 will likely become endemic, a permanent part of our lives that we’ll have to learn to live with and manage.

In fact, there’s only one human disease that’s ever been truly eradicated. And that’s Smallpox, an ancient virus that claimed the lives of Egyptian pharaohs and medieval peasants alike. The virus is estimated to have killed about 300 million people worldwide during the 20th century.

In 1967, public health workers from around the world came together to try to stamp it out once and for all. They traveled from country to country, tracking down cases by word of mouth and vaccinating entire villages where the virus was found. However, off in the small, remote village of Kuralia, Bangladesh, a toddler was developing the telltale rash that ignited a race against time.


This story was produced by Alissa Escarce with additional reporting and translation support by Dil Afrose Jahan.

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