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Smallpox: A Great and Terrible Scourge banner
Smallpox: A Great and Terrible Scourge written in white lettering with a black border Public Health Service Historian History of Medicine Division National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health The Threat written in red letters. Variolation written in red letters. Vaccination written in red letters. Resistance to Vaccination written in red letters. The 20th Century Threat written in red letters. Campaign to Eradicate written in red letters. Obstacles and Struggle written in red letters. Success written in red letters.


By the early 1970s, a growing number of nations had reached “zero-pox.” In 1975, the last case of variola major, the most virulent form of smallpox, occurred in Bangladesh.

In October, 1977, Ali Maow Maalin of Somalia contracted variola minor, becoming the last person in the world to contract smallpox naturally.

A green map of Africa with a yellow stamp on top that says World Health Organization. Smallpox Zero 26.10.79 in yellow lettering.

The eradication of smallpox has saved millions of lives and millions of dollars but it has caused new problems. Officially, smallpox exists only in the United States and Russia but there are concerns that terrorists or rogue states may unleash the virus. Today, as scientists and bioethicists weigh the demands of scientific research against the possibility of a man-made outbreak, the virus sits on death row—awaiting a final date for destruction.

The most recent decision regarding the destruction of smallpox was made on May 18, 2002. Click here for the decision.

Head and shoulders left pose of Ali Maow Maalin standing showing his naked chest showing his smallpox pustules.

Ali Maow Maalin had worked temporarily as a smallpox vaccinator but he had not been successfully vaccinated and on October 22, 1977, he contracted the disease after being exposed to two children with smallpox. He ultimately recovered from the disease.

The cover of World Health magazine with an image of the earth in a globe with a yellow banner spanning across the cover stating smallpox is dead in black lettering.

Although the last case of smallpox occurred in 1977, it was not until 1980 that the WHO felt confident that smallpox had been completely eradicated.