A GLOBAL EFFORT
For more than 3,500 years, SMALLPOX had been among humankind’s most lethal and dreaded diseases.
It also became the first successful vaccine. In 1948, the World Health Assembly formed a joint study group on the virus, and in 1959 the World Health Organization launched a global eradication program.
Despite these efforts, by 1966 smallpox was still widespread in South America, Africa, and Asia.
The following year, however, a new international crusade was launched, employing bifurcated needles, a
freeze-dried vaccine, and a more sophisticated surveillance system. As recently as 1967 there had been more than 10 million cases and 2 million deaths from smallpox in 43 countries, yet on May 8, 1980, the 33rd World Health Assembly officially proclaimed the world entirely free of the disease.
Eradication of smallpox is now considered one the most significant achievements in global public health.
The public-private partnership approach that was central to eliminating the world’s most deadly illness over the course of just 13 years is now being used to address other infectious disease epidemics like malaria. Through collaborations of technology, communications, and effective applications, we’re capable of successes that were previously unimaginable.
It has taken over a century, but Semmelweis’s innovation has inspired a global movement for patient safety and hygiene. His story teaches that even the most obvious ideas can be met with resistance.
In 1980, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the eradication of smallpox, one of two infectious diseases to have been eradicated. (The other was rinderpest, which was declared eradicated in 2011.)