August 24, 2010

Thirty years after the eradication of smallpox, global health policymakers, practitioners and advocates have gathered to discuss the massive campaign to eradicate humanity’s greatest killer and how the campaign’s lessons and legacies relate to current and future global health priorities. The Sabin Vaccine Institute (Sabin), Fogarty International Center of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Fundação Oswaldo Cruz (FIOCRUZ) convened the symposium, “Smallpox Eradication after 30 Years: Lessons, Legacies and Innovations,” today in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

2010 marks the 30th anniversary of the Global Commission for the Certification of Smallpox Eradication officially reporting the elimination of smallpox disease, one of humanity’s greatest health scourges that had plagued civilization since the beginning of recorded history. Smallpox remains the only disease to ever have been eradicated.

“Smallpox eradication was a unique event but the current global health climate is receptive to similar successes being achieved with measles, guinea worm, rubella and polio,” said Dr. Ciro de Quadros, Executive Vice President of the Sabin Vaccine Institute and former World Health Organization (WHO) Chief Epidemiologist for the Smallpox Eradication Program in Ethiopia from 1970 to 1976.”With a renewed sense of urgency, we can celebrate the eradication of these additional diseases and enjoy the many benefits to humanity that disease eradication brings.”

From the time it was first recognized as a distinct disease until the late 19th century, smallpox was universally associated with a high fatality rate. Before a vaccine was discovered, the disease killed people of all ages and all socioeconomic classes. The WHO estimates that smallpox killed up to 30% of those who became infected and was one of the most devastating diseases known to humanity in history.

“We are proud to host the smallpox symposium on our campus where a great deal of investment in research and discovery of methods to control and eliminate diseases that are greatly impacting communities around the world is happening,” said Dr. Paulo Gadelha, President of FIOCRUZ. “In this time of innovation, vaccine research and development, and international collaboration, I’ve never felt more confident in the global health community’s ability to add additional diseases to the list of those eradicated.”

“The eradication of smallpox has rightly been called one of mankind’s greatest achievements. Not only was it an important public health milestone, but it also gave rise to the founding of the Expanded Program on Immunization, which has been instrumental in saving the lives of millions of children around the world,” said Dr. Mirta Roses, Director of the Pan American Health Organization. “As we have advanced with polio eradication in the Americas, now a global goal, and the elimination of measles and rubella, the Americas are forging a new future in control of vaccine-preventable diseases that sets examples for the rest of the world. We honor the heroes of smallpox eradication and the millions of health workers who toil selflessly every day to bring life-saving vaccines to the remotest corners of the earth, and we urge continued government, NGO, and private sector support for the goals of universal immunization.”

A live webcast of the symposium will be available at http://www.sabin.org/.

The symposium, held on the campus of FIOCRUZ from August 24-27, 2010, is being convened with financial support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Emory Global Health Institute, FIOCRUZ, NIH, Rockefeller Foundation, United Nations Foundation, Wellcome Trust, and Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine.

Selected speakers include Drs. Ciro de Quadros and Peter Hotez of Sabin; Joel G. Breman of Fogarty International Center, NIH; Paulo Gadelha, President of FIOCRUZ; D.A. Henderson, who led the WHO’s global smallpox eradication campaign from 1966-1977; Mirta Roses, Director of the Pan American Health Organization; and Tadataka Yamada of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, among others.

The symposium is the culmination of the smallpox eradication commemoration 2010 group (SEC2010), a volunteer effort comprised of former smallpox eradication professionals from around the world. In addition to the symposium, SEC2010 has sponsored the installation of a bronze memorial on the grounds of the WHO in Geneva, Switzerland, and the publication of an illustrated history of smallpox and its eradication.

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