Aaron Huey, Getty Images

Mission : sauver l’environnement

CHEVY CHASE, MARYLAND – Imaginez un peu. Vous êtes en 1966. Vous êtes debout dans un bureau gouvernemental à Washington, DC, pour observer un officier en uniforme parler à un homme en complet d’hommes d’affaires et qui lui dit : « Votre mission consiste à éliminer un ennemi qui a tué plus de gens que les deux guerres mondiales réunies. Vous disposerez d’un maigre budget, d’une petite équipe et dans l’éventualité de votre échec, le secrétaire niera avoir eu vent de vos actes ».

Cela ressemble à une scène d’un film d’Hollywood. Et, en fait, c’est le reflet de la scène d’ouverture de la série de télévision Mission impossible présentée en grande première cette année. Mais c’est vraiment arrivé, même si ça ne s’est pas déroulé exactement en ces termes. L’officier était le chirurgien général adjoint James Watt, le chargé de mission était le chercheur du Centre des maladies transmissibles (CDC) Donald Henderson et l’ennemi à abattre était la variole.

La mission semblait assurément impossible. À l’époque, la variole causait la mort de pas moins de deux millions de personnes et infectait un autre 15 millions, chaque année. Pourtant, comme dans la série, Henderson et son équipe de l’Organisation mondiale de la santé ont surpassé toute attente. En l’espace d’une décennie seulement, la variole est devenue la première — et, à ce jour, la seule — maladie infectieuse humaine à être complètement éliminée.

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