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Fighting Coronavirus Together: Eradication of Smallpox by World Health Organisation Holds Lessons for Overcoming COVID-19

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KIU, Main Campus – On 8th May 1980, smallpox was officially declared eradicated worldwide by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Smallpox spread via person-to-person transmission. Over 300 million people died from this virus in the 20th Century.

In 1796, the world’s first vaccine against any disease was developed. Vaccination from the early 1800s onwards greatly reduced smallpox globally.

In 1958, having contained the disease, the government of the USSR called for the global eradication of smallpox. At the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union cooperated with The United States of America to eradicate smallpox. Ideologies and politics were set aside as the world united to fight a common threat.

In the 1960s, smallpox was still endemic in Africa and Asia, killing millions of people. In solidarity, countries worked to fight the virus.

In 1967, the World Health Organisation launched a 10-year Intensified Smallpox Eradication Programme. Smallpox fighters contended with war zones, population displacement, and rumours. But the coordinated and concerted effort, surveillance, contact training, health worker training, health worker education, and vaccination finally led to the eradication of smallpox.

This is relevant today because the vital lessons learned from the smallpox eradication are being used to fight Polio, Ebola, and now COVID-19. The eradication of smallpox involved millions of people working together in solidarity.

Today, every case of COVID-19 must be found so that patients can be treated, and the onward spread stopped. As was done 40 years ago with smallpox, so can COVID-19 be beaten, together.  


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