Smallpox Eradication: A Legacy Of Hope For COVID-19, Other Diseases—Tedros, WHO Boss
The World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus has said that as nations continued the fight against Coronavirus pandemic, the victory over smallpox is a reminder of what collective efforts can do when fighting common health threat.
He said this at a virtual event hosted at WHO-HQ, involving key players in the eradication effort.
According to him, “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 .The world got rid of smallpox thanks to an incredible demonstration of global solidarity, and because it had a safe and effective vaccine. Solidarity plus science equaled solution,”
Tedros highlighted that smallpox eradication also offers hope for efforts to eliminate other infectious diseases, including polio, which is now endemic in just two countries adding that to date, 187 countries, territories and areas have been certified free of Guinea worm disease, with seven more to go.
He said that the fight against malaria has so far resulted in 38 countries and territories certified as malaria-free and that in the case of Tuberculosis (TB), 57 countries and territories with low TB incidence are on track to reach TB elimination.
Tedros unveiled a commemorative postal stamp to recognize the global solidarity that drove the initiative and honour the efforts of health workers who ensured its success.
He said that the stamp, developed by the United Nations Postal Administration (UNPA), in collaboration with WHO, signifies what national unity and global solidarity can achieve.
The WHO boss stated that numerous countries, such as Guinea, India, Nigeria, Philippines, Togo and others have issued smallpox stamps to show support for, and raise awareness about WHO’s Intensified Smallpox Eradication Programme launched in 1967.
Recalled that on May 8 , 1980, the 33rd World Health Assembly officially declared, ‘The world and all its peoples have won freedom from smallpox.’
The declaration according to WHO marked the end of a disease that had plagued humanity for at least 3 000 years, killing 300 million people in the 20th century alone.
WHO said that was against smallpox ended after a 10-year global effort, spearheaded by the World Health Organization, that involved thousands of health workers around the world to administer half a billion vaccinations to stamp out smallpox.
The $ 300m price-tag to eradicate smallpox saves the world well over $ 1 billion every year since 1980.
Also speaking at the event, the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti’s while giving earliest memories of smallpox of her father said, “I was visiting WHO headquarters and I saw a photo of my Dad, standing with the other experts on the Global Commission. I remember him going out, doing follow-up visits with patients. He often would go with a driver and disappear into the bush for days. I felt in awe of his tireless work. The strategies used to eradicate smallpox still apply today.”
On his part, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), David Heymann said, “Lessons learned from smallpox are used today to respond to disease outbreaks. For example, house-to-house active case-finding underpins the polio eradication programme, and ring vaccination of contacts is helping to combat the spread of the Ebola virus disease. Similarly, surveillance, case-finding, testing, contact-tracing, quarantine, and communication campaigns to dispel misinformation are central to controlling COVID-19.”
Following smallpox eradication, WHO and UNICEF launched the Expanded Programme on Immunization, under which 85 per cent of the world’s children are vaccinated and protected from debilitating diseases.
With the potential of a COVID-19 vaccine ahead, ensuring sufficient supplies and reaching people in hard to reach places is a high priority and that addressing vaccine hesitancy poses a significant challenge to stop the virus.
Access to accurate public health information and education is critical to ensure that the public has the facts to keep themselves and others safe.
To permanently commemorate the eradication of smallpox and the lessons learned on a global scale, rather than every 10-years, WHO is calling museums, exhibition companies, designers, curators and associations to develop an immersive, interactive and educational exhibition on smallpox and its relevance for COVID-19 and global health security.
The exhibition, which will be unveiled later this year, will promote a better understanding of public health and empower people to keep informed and safe during a pandemic.