Thus far, only two diseases in history have been eradicated: Smallpox in 1980 and a bovine disease named Rinderpest in 2010. However, today two more diseases are steps from the finish line: Guinea Worm, which had only 148 cases in 2013, and Polio which has been expelled from most of the earth and is making its last stand in Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Additionally the International Task Force for Disease Eradication has deemed five other diseases as candidates for global eradication: elephantiasis, measles, mumps, rubella, and pork tapeworm, and nine diseases as candidates for regional elimination. You may think that measles, mumps and rubella represent battles that have already been won. But in 2012, 122,000 people—mostly children—died from Measles alone

The point is, there is a considerable list of diseases (14) which we know how to extinguish, but haven’t taken the trouble to extinguish. Below are five reasons why disease eradication is worth the trouble and five reasons why the body of Christ should play a significant role.

The Benefits of Disease Eradication are Immeasurable.

Adapted from Jesse Bjoraker’s essay “Eradicate Disease: Why?”

  1. It's frugal. Ralph Winter amended Ben Franklin’s famous quote in saying, “If an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, a tenth of an ounce of eradication is even more crucial.” Think of the truly enormous amounts of money and human resources that haven’t been expended to treat smallpox since it entered the archives of human disease. The United States saves the total amount it contributed to the smallpox eradication campaign every 26 days because it does not have to vaccinate or treat the disease. 
  2. It's forever. Eradication can be thought of as preventing a given disease from infecting any human being on earth for the rest of history, rendering treatment forever unnecessary. In essence, eradication equals treatment and prevention of a specific disease on a global level and for all future generations.
  3. It's for everyone. The eradication of smallpox has been called “one of the greatest accomplishments undertaken and performed for the benefit of mankind anywhere or at any time.” [1] Disease eradication may be one of the few things the entire world can agree upon. It is a goal that transcends political, religious, ethnic and national divisions. “During the late 1960’s, for example, [amid the smallpox eradication campaign] Nigerian troops carried smallpox vaccine halfway out onto a bridge and then withdrew so that their Biafran opponents could collect it.” [2]
  4. It’s crucial and urgent. Winter often used the following analogy: Think of the need for eradication as though you were walking through a sniper’s alley with a bulletproof vest on. The vest (prevention) will protect you from the sniper. But if a bullet hits you where your vest doesn’t cover, you’ve got to get the medic to remove the bullet and stitch you up (treatment/cure). But the most crucial objective is to eliminate the sniper (eradication). “All of these are important, but the third is the most urgent and crucial.” Winter explained. “You can fumble the ball in treating the wounded and dodging bullets, but you can’t win the war without the offensive.” [3]
  5. It’s strategic. We are all perfectly aware of the colossal amount of money we as a society pay and donate to the medical/pharmaceutical industry. However, what we may be shocked to discover is that this immense expenditure is almost entirely focused on healing the sick not seeking the source of the sickness. It is a classic case of being so busy mopping up the floor that we can’t turn off the spigot.  

Why Should the Body of Christ Take up the Challenge?

  1. It’s strategic. Dawson Trotman, founder of the Navigators had a famous motto: "Never do anything others can do or will do, when there are things to be done that others can't do or won't." While macro-level problems like poverty, injustice, and human trafficking have already significantly caught the attention of the body of Christ, is there even one avowedly Christian institution on the face of the earth working specifically for the eradication of disease pathogens?
  2. It is embedded in the Christian ethos. Notice how the Beatitudes do not include, “Blessed are the sick.” Down through history believers have displayed a remarkable willingness to tackle disease. Think of the many hospitals established in the name of Christ since the time of Constantine, or the health clinics and medical missionaries spread all over the globe today. It would seem that eradication is just the next logical step in our age-long battle against disease.
  3. It will empower our witness. If believers could summon the necessary resources and resolve to mount an offensive counter attack against eradicable disease, not only would it be helpful in alleviating suffering, it could also “radically add power and beauty to the very concept of the God we preach, and thus become a new and vital means of glorifying God among the nations.” [4]
  4. It requires missionary zeal. “Disease eradication, because it takes the globe as its clinic, faces monster-sized…complexities. The facilities are worse, the money scarcer, the sun hotter, the cold colder, the workers harder to find and to train, and the results harder to verify.” [5] This cause requires a kind of zeal that is reminiscent of the dedication that has propelled missionaries around the globe for centuries.
  5. There are profound Biblical reasons. As scripture portrays it, one of the foundational reasons that Christ appeared and the purpose behind much of his activity— his healings, his exorcisms, his teachings, and the cross—was to conquer the devil and his death-dealing works (Heb 2:14). Given the prevalence in the New Testament of the assumption that sickness and disease are works of the devil (Mt 9:32, 12:22, 17:14-18, Lk 13:10-16, Act 10:38), plus the absolute finality implied in the word eradication, this cause seems to resonate quite profoundly with Christ’s purpose of destroying the works of the devil (1John 3:8).

Will We Do What it Takes?

In the fight against the roots of disease there are major gaps of funding, research, human resources and collective resolve that need to be filled. There are opportunities everywhere and it is the conviction of the Roberta Winter Institute that the body of Christ can and should play a significant role.