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WHO, UN’s postal agency release commemorative stamp on 40th anniversary of smallpox eradication

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United Nations: The WHO and the UN’s postal agency have released a commemorative postage stamp on the 40th anniversary of the eradication of smallpox, with the head of the global health body expressing gratitude to a top Indian-origin UN official.

In May 1980, the 33rd World Health Assembly issued its official declaration that “the world and all its peoples have won freedom from smallpox.”

It was ended on the back of a 10-year WHO-spearheaded global effort that involved thousands of health workers around the world to administer half a billion vaccinations to stamp out smallpox.

“When WHO’s smallpox eradication campaign was launched in 1967, one of the ways countries raised awareness about smallpox was through postage stamps when social media like Twitter and Facebook was not even on the horizon,” World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

“I especially want to thank my friend Mr Atul Khare, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Operational Support, for making this commemorative stamp possible,” he said in Geneva on Friday during a virtual unveiling of the stamp.

Born in India, Khare is the Under-Secretary-General for the Department of Operational Support (DOS) and the UN Postal Administration is within the DOS Division of Administration.

“In light of these uncertain and challenging times, I must commend the creative skill and powerful visual storytelling achieved by the UN Postal Administration, especially designer of this commemorative stamp Sergio Baradat,” Khare told PTI.

It is through these collaborative artistic projects that “we are reminded of our past hardships, but also our ability to overcome them through ingenuity, conviction, and the power of partnerships,” the top UN official said.

“Even in the midst of this troubling pandemic, my spirits and pride are lifted to know that the Operational Support community continues to lean upon creativity and work alongside various entities such as the World Health Organization to elicit emotions of hope and unity when we need them most,” Khare said.

Khare became the Under-Secretary-General for Operational Support in January 2019. He was previously appointed Under-Secretary-General for Field Support in 2015.

The stamp recognises the global solidarity in fighting smallpox and honours millions of people working together, from world leaders and international organisations to rural doctors and community health workers, to eradicate smallpox.

Ghebreyesus said that smallpox was the first and, to date, the only human disease to be eradicated globally. Until it was wiped out, smallpox had plagued humanity for at least 3,000 years, killing 300 million people in the 20th century alone.

“Its eradication stands as the greatest public health triumph in history. As the world confronts the COVID-19 pandemic, humanity’s victory over smallpox is a reminder of what is possible when nations come together to fight a common health threat,” the WHO chief said.

He said that many of the basic public health tools that were used successfully to eradicate smallpox are the same tools that have been used to respond to Ebola, and to COVID-19: disease surveillance, case finding, contact tracing, and mass communication campaigns to inform affected populations.

The WHO is now working with many partners to accelerate the development of a vaccine for COVID-19, which will be an essential tool for controlling transmission of the virus, he said.

The UN said that the successful smallpox eradication programme yielded vital knowledge and tools for the field of disease surveillance, the benefits of vaccination and the importance of health promotion in fighting other diseases.

It also laid the foundation for stronger national immunisation programmes worldwide, underpinning the establishment of primary health care in many countries and creating momentum toward Universal Health Coverage.

The USD 300 million price-tag to eradicate the virus has saved the world well over USD 1 billion every year since 1980, the UN said.

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