The Dahlem Workshop discussed the hierarchy of possible public health interventions in dealing with infectious diseases, which were defined as control, elimination of disease, elimination of infections, eradication, and extinction. The indicators of eradicability were the availability of effective interventions and practical diagnostic tools and the essential need for humans in the life-cycle of the agent. Since health resources are limited, decisions have to be made as to whether their use for an elimination or eradication programme is preferable to their use elsewhere. The costs and benefits of global eradication programmes concern direct effects on morbidity and mortality and consequent effects on the health care system. The success of any disease eradication initiative depends strongly on the level of societal and political commitment, with a key role for the World Health Assembly. Eradication and ongoing programmes constitute potentially complementary approaches to public health. Elimination and eradication are the ultimate goals of public health, evolving naturally from disease control. The basic question is whether these goals are to be achieved in the present or some future generation.