WHO Commemorates 40th Anniversary Of Smallpox Eradication

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The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Friday, commemorated 40 years anniversary of smallpox eradication as the first and only human disease to be eradicated globally.

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Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of WHO said that the eradication of the disease stood as the greatest public health triumph in history.

He stated this at a news conference in Geneva, as posted on WHO verified website.

“Exactly 40 years ago today, on the 8th of May 1980, the World Health Assembly officially declared that “the world and all its peoples have won freedom from smallpox”.

“Smallpox is the first and, to date, the only human disease to be eradicated globally.

“Until it was wiped out, smallpox had plagued humanity for at least 3,000 years, killing 300 million people in the 20th century alone.

“As the world confronts the COVID-19 pandemic, humanity’s victory over smallpox is a reminder of what is possible when nations come together to fight a common health threat,’’ he said.

The director general said many of the basic public health tools that were used successfully then are the same tools that have been used to respond to Ebola and to COVID-19.

“The tools are disease surveillance, case finding, contact tracing, and mass communication campaigns to inform affected populations.

“The smallpox eradication campaign had one crucial tool that we don’t have for COVID-19 yet: a vaccine; in fact, the world’s first vaccine.

“As you know, WHO is now working with many partners to accelerate the development of a vaccine for COVID-19, which will be an essential tool for controlling transmission of the virus.

“But although a vaccine was crucial for ending smallpox, it was not enough on its own,’’ he said.

Ghebreyesus said after all, the vaccine was first developed by Edward Jenner in 1796; it took another 184 years for smallpox to be eradicated.

“The decisive factor in the victory over smallpox was global solidarity.

“At the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union and the United States of America joined forces to conquer a common enemy.

“They recognised that viruses do not respect nations or ideologies; that same solidarity, built on national unity, is needed now more than ever to defeat COVID-19.

“Stories like the eradication of smallpox have incredible power to inspire.

“But there are many more untold stories about health around the world,’’ he said.

According to him, as world reflects on the eradication of smallpox, the world should be reminded of what is possible when nations come together to confront a common foe; to confront a common enemy.

He said: “The legacy of smallpox was not only the eradication of one disease; it was the demonstration that when the world unites, anything is possible. If there is a will, there is a way.

“It gave us the confidence to pursue the eradication of other diseases like polio and Guinea worm.

“Like smallpox, COVID-19 is a defining challenge for public health; like smallpox, it’s a test of global solidarity.

“Like smallpox, COVID-19 is giving us an opportunity not only to fight a single disease, but to change the trajectory of global health.

“Also to build a healthier, safer, fairer world for everyone – to achieve universal health coverage, to achieve our dream from the establishment of WHO in the 1940s: Health for All.’’

He said, in addition, when WHO’s smallpox eradication campaign was launched in 1967, one of the ways countries raised awareness about smallpox was through postage stamps – when social media like Twitter and Facebook was not even on the horizon.

“To commemorate the 40th Anniversary of smallpox eradication, the United Nations Postal Administration and WHO are releasing a commemorative postage stamp to recognise global solidarity in fighting smallpox.

“I especially want to thank Mr Atul Khare, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Operational Support, for making this commemorative stamp possible,’’ the director general said.

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