The driver of the Land Rover had two children with smallpox in the back seat. He needed
directions to the isolation camp near Merka, Samalia. The young man, who gave him directions,
spending less than ten minutes in the vehicle with the driver and two patients, was a cook in the
hospital at Merka. That brief chance encounter may have made the cook, a 23-year-old named
Ali Maaow Maalin, the last human being to become a victim of smallpox. After helping the
driver find the smallpox team leader in Merka, the cook went back to work at the hospital and let
the matter slip from his mind. Two weeks later, he developed a fever and was sent home to rest.
Two days after that, still feverish, he was back in the hospital as a patient. His illness was first
diagnosed as malaria, then chicken pox. During all that time, both at home and in the hospital, he
had visitors. No one recalled that he had been exposed to two active cases of smallpox. No one
checked his vaccination record. Soon it became all too obvious that he had smallpox and was a
living, contagious threat to one of the world’s great public health accomplishments.
a huge part of human history, and just because a way is found to protect people from them, that
does not mean that the threat and risk is gone.
History of Smallpox
Smallpox is a serious, contagious, and sometimes fatal infectious disease caused by a
variola virus that emerged thousands of years ago. It is one of the many diseases like flu,
tuberculosis, malaria, measles, cholera, and plague, that evolved from animals “even though
most of the microbes responsible for our own epidemic illnesses are paradoxically now almost
confined to humans” (Diamond 197). There is no specific treatment for smallpox, and the only
prevention is a vaccine. Smallpox is Latin for “spotted” which refers to the raised bumps that
appear on the face and body. There are two clinical forms of smallpox, variola major and variola
Thanks to James C. Frauenthal and his book Smallpox: When Should Routine Vaccination Be Discontinued?
the story of the last case of smallpox.