Thousands of health professionals around the world administered half a billion vaccines over a ten-year period to eliminate smallpox, the World Health Organization reported.
In a statement to mark the 40th anniversary of eradicating the disease, WHO said the $ 300 million price to eradicate smallpox has saved the world well over $ 1 billion a year since 1980.
On May 8, 1980, the 33rd World Health Assembly officially declared: "The world and all its people have won freedom from smallpox".
The declaration marked the end of a disease that plagued mankind for at least 3,000 years, killing 300 million people in the 20th century alone.
Speaking at a virtual event held at WHO headquarters, involving key actors in the eradication effort, WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that smallpox eradication offers hope for efforts to eliminate other infectious diseases, including polio. now endemic in only two countries.
"While the world faces the COVID-19 pandemic, humanity's victory over smallpox is a reminder of what is possible when nations come together to combat a common health threat," he said.
“Many of the basic public health tools that have been used successfully are the same ones used to respond to Ebola and COVID-19: disease surveillance, case searches, contact tracking and mass communication campaigns to inform affected populations. "
To date, 187 countries, territories and areas have been certified free from Guinea worm disease, with seven more to come. And the fight against malaria so far has resulted in 38 countries and territories certified as free from malaria. In the case of tuberculosis (TB), 57 countries and territories with a low incidence of TB are on track to achieve TB elimination.
Dr. Ghebreyesus said that WHO is now working with many partners to accelerate the development of a vaccine for COVID-19, which will be an essential tool to control the transmission of the virus.
"But while a vaccine was crucial to ending smallpox, it was not enough on its own," he said.
“After all, the vaccine was developed by Edward Jenner in 1796. It took 184 more years for smallpox to be eradicated. The deciding factor in the victory over smallpox was global solidarity. "
WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, said his earliest memories of smallpox are from his father, while visiting WHO headquarters, alongside other experts from the Global Commission.
“I remember him leaving, making follow-up visits with the patients. He used to go with a driver and disappear into the woods for days. I felt admiration for his tireless work. The strategies used to eradicate smallpox still apply today. "