Crystal Cox/Business Insider
  • On the 40th anniversary of the eradication of smallpox, the World Health Organisation's director general said it's "a reminder of what's possible" when it comes the coronavirus.
  • But he said the fight against smallpox had one crucial tool we don't yet have for Covid-19: a vaccine.
  • Even after a vaccine was developed for smallpox, it took another 184 to completely eradicate the disease - a reminder of the long road ahead for conquering the coronavirus.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

On May 8, 1980, the World Health Assembly officially declared smallpox eradicated.

The disease had "plagued humanity for at least 3,000 years, and killed 300 million people in the 20th century alone," the World Health Organisation director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a media briefing exactly 40 years later, on May 8, 2020.

"Humanity's victory over smallpox is a reminder of what's possible when nations come together to fight a common health threat," he said.

Getting there involved many of the tactics used today against the novel coronavirus, including case finding, contact tracing, and mass communication campaigns. But one "crucial tool" is still missing: a vaccine, which WHO, among many organisations and researchers, is working to develop.

Even when an effective coronavirus vaccine is available and widely accessible, the eradication of Covid-19 is likely a ways off, if it happens at all. Smallpox remains the only human disease to be eradicated globally, and it took 184 years between the development of the first-ever vaccine in 1796 to its eradication in 1980.

"The decisive factor in the victory over smallpox was global solidarity," Tedros said. "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 sort of clarity built on national unity is needed now more than ever to defeat Covid-19."

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