The role of political will in eliminating disease

The creation of political policy and the implementation of health services are not often linked, but James Maguire points out the importance of connecting public health issues with political issues (2010).  It is clear that when you can mobilise political will towards fighting a disease, it is much more affective than instances when health organisations try to move forward without national or global political support.  Jim Kim holds up the global fight against HIV/AIDS as a success story where a political movement targeted a disease, but it is just one of the success stories out there.

My generation is not familiar with the fear of smallpox, but I heard stories growing up of my parents' receiving their smallpox shots when they were young.  They grew up in the US in the 1950s, after the creation of a smallpox immunisation but before the World Health Organisation (WHO) began their Smallpox Eradication Program.  To quote the WHO archives, "In 1966, the 19th World Health Assembly requested the Director-General of WHO to initiate action to carry out a world-wide smallpox eradication programme" (  Smallpox was still rampant in Africa and Asia until the end of the 1960s and it was this political backing from global powers that turned an endemic disease into an eliminated disease.  In 1980 WHO announced the elimination of smallpox (

It took WHO fourteen years to eliminate smallpox once the globally backed Smallpox Eradication Program was created.  Malaria is a more modern disease but similar in that is easily preventable and has received similar global political attention.  In 2000, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said, "We now have effective, affordable and doable interventions to prevent and cure malaria.  But we cannot deploy the means if the political will is lacking" (  UNICEF appealed to the African leaders on that day in 2000 and now, fourteen years later, "Malaria mortality rates among children in Africa have been reduced by an estimated 58%" (  The Roll Back Malaria initiative may not have been as successful as the Smallpox Eradication Program, in that malaria was not eradicated within fourteen years, but I think it's safe to say that the political will that Bellamy asked for back in 2000 has created huge successes in bringing the effects of this disease down.

It is too late to get involved in the fight against smallpox (which is a good thing), but there are still plenty of diseases out there that people know how to fight, they're just lacking the political will to effectively do so.  AIDS and malaria are two examples that have established political movements that people can get involved in, by donating to or volunteering for organisations like The Global Fund, which fights AIDS, turberulosis and malaria ( - or even just joining their cause on Twitter and Facebook.  Other groups are in the process of creating social movements to fight diseases, such as the "How To Shock A Celebrity" video that enlisted the help of celebrities to gain support for the elimination of the seven most neglected tropical diseases.  Fighting these diseases could use all of our help - we can start by raising awareness (sharing videos, retweeting, telling friends) and then by putting pressure on our political leaders to raise their voices in support of these movements.  Because as we know, political will can make all the difference.

Kaia RoseComment