One of the world's most exclusive organizations -- its 700 members scattered throughout the world are the only ones it will ever have -- is the Order of the Bifurcated Needle.
Her association with members of this group and with the Bangladeshi family with whom the most virulent smallpox virus ceased to exist are among June Goodfield's most vivid memories of the approximately four years in which she researched and filmed the PBS television series "Quest for the Killers."
The members of the OBN are the World Health Organization team that, with workers from 23 countries, wiped smallpox from the face of the earth. They did this in a little over a decade by vaccinating -- with a bifurcated needle -- often reluctant, sometimes violent, Third World citizens.
In Bangladesh, where the final outbreaks occurred, the teams broke into houses to find unvaccinated citizens. Some of them rode the rails, Goodfield says. "They couldn't get into first-class train compartments because the doors were locked. Second class was too crowded -- you talk about sardines." The overflow rode on the train roofs, and that's where the WHO volunteers found their subjects. "They'd vaccinate everybody on one train roof, then jump to another and another, day after day."
June Goodfield, a 57-year-old zoologist, medical historian and philosopher, spent months visiting the sites of the TV series' episodes, bringing back some of the principals in the various medical enterprises and reliving with them the frustrations and triumphs.
She remembers hiking 9,000 feet in the Himalayas, filming the leprosy episode, on her 57th birthday. She had, she recalls, just flown there from the segment filmed in the Caribbean: "I was bouncing around the world like a Ping-Pong ball."
But most of all she remembers Rahima Banu, the now-13-year-old Bangladeshi girl whose smallpox, the virulent type called Variola major, was the last, the very last on earth, after 10,000 years of recorded history. (The less serious variant of the virus was eliminated about a year later, in 1976.)
But Goodfield, whose self-declared purpose was to set the medical advancements, as she puts it, "against the background of continuing social and political dilemmas," does not let it end there.
"What," she asks, "after all, does it mean to her?" Rahima and her family live in the area decimated last spring by typhoons and flooding. Her house today has a roof, but no walls. Her father's land was flooded and lost and "now he is the worst thing to be in the Third World -- a landless peasant," says Goodfield.
"So, for Rahima, the eradication of smallpox is, of course, very good because there is no more spring disease, no more blindness. But she's got a lot of things to contend with -- malnutrition, other diseases, no sanitation, poverty. And her plight is like millions in the Third World." -- Sandy Rovner