Smallpox was eradicated 40 years ago after “unprecedented” co-operation between nations, and a similar global effort could help bring an end to COVID-19, World Health Organization officials said Friday.

Speaking on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the eradication of smallpox, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that “smallpox is the first and to date the only human disease to be eradicated globally.”

“Humanity’s victory over smallpox is a reminder of what’s possible when nations come together to fight a common health threat,” Tedros said. “Many of the basic public health tools that were used successfully then are the same tools that have been used to respond to Ebola and to COVID: disease surveillance, case finding, contact tracing and mass communication campaigns to inform affected populations.”

Smallpox had a vaccine though, he noted, which COVID-19 does not yet have. However, it took 184 years after the invention of the smallpox vaccine for the disease to be wiped out, he said.

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“The decisive factor in the victory over smallpox was global solidarity,” he said.

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