Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Global Eradication of Smallpox

Commemorative Postage Stamps To Mark The Global Eradication of Smallpox

Series Details

Date of Issue: 1978-09-30
Denominations: 15 cents, 30 cents, 50 cents
Stamp Sizes: 35 mm x 25 mm
Paper: Unwatermarked white security paper
Printing Process: Lithography
Printer: Messrs. Harrison & Sons, High Wycombe, England
Designer: Cik Nik Nurida Salleh
Stamps in this series:

First Day Cover:

Global Eradication of Smallpox

Today will be written into the history of man’s achievements in health and medicine. Smallpox in its most virulent and deadly form has been one of the ghastly companions of human race since recorded time. Today an international commission of medical experts from nine countries, after studying the evidence of a painstaking, methodical two-year research, has signed the final certificate of smallpox in Asia. The disease of variola major has been wiped out. The prophecy of Edward Jenner, 18th century pioneer of vaccination has been fulfilled.

The eradication of smallpox represents one of the historic milestones in medicine, but – more than that – this first global eradication of a major disease provides an outstanding example of the constructive results nations can achieve when they work together towards the common cause of better health for all.

When WHO smallpox eradication program began 10 years ago, 30 countries were endemic and many more reported importations of the virus. Now, entire continents have been swept clean of this dread infection, and the population still at risk is but a minute fraction of that over which it held a way just a decade ago.

In achieving these extraordinary results, the public health services of many nations have been strengthened – national reporting systems for all the communicable disease have been improved, better techniques for immunization have been developed and communicable disease control services have evolved.

As victory over variola becomes a reality now, we are at the “point of no return”. It is the beginning of the end for smallpox, which can never return to ravage the earth as in centuries past. But it is also the beginning of a new era for WHO, which having shown what can be done to eliminate disease when all nations join together in a unified coordinated effort – can now attack more effectively the multitude of other major health problems still confronting us.

Dr. H. Mahler
Director – General WHO.

Something About Smallpox:
Smallpox is an acute infectious disease characterized by severe fever, chills and headache and a peripheral rash which appears on the third day of the fever. The rash later becomes vesicular and ultimately leaves permanent pock marks.

The disease is caused by virus infection through human beings, directly or indirectly. The virus is air-borne and the infection spreads through inhalation of droplets or dust containing the virus. There is no natural immunity to smallpox. All races and all ages are susceptible if unprotected by previous inoculation.

The disease is seldom fatal. However, its complications of pock marks and blindness could be permanent.

Historical background of Immunization
It was in the year 570 A.D. that the Bishop of Avenches Switzerland, wrote a report about an epidemic in France and Italy. He made the first use of the word “variola” to describe the patients’ appearance as “spotted”. Then in 10th century a great Persian physician, Rhazes, discussed smallpox in his paper entitled “A Treatise on the Smallpox” and distinguished it from measles. However, hundreds of years passed before his work was read and later accepted by physicians in Europe.

The first battle against smallpox was initially spurred by a beautiful woman whose loveliness it had destroyed. The lovely woman was Lady Mary Wortley Montagus, wife of an 18th century English ambassador to Turkey. She barely survived the smallpox attack that struck at the age of 26 and marred her beauty. Later, living with her husband in Turkey, she noticed a method used there to prevent the disease – for which, then as now, no effective treatment has ever been found. On her return to England, she urged the adoption of this preventive method, called variolation.

This first preventive method of fighting the disease is of unknown origin. Variolation was employed in ancient India and under the Tcheo Dynasty of China when there were outbreaks of so-called “tai-tu” disease. The method involves taking material from the pox or pustule of a sick person and scratching it into the skin of people who are not yet ill. The recipients usually develop only a mild illness – but they can infect others and their illness is not mild. Provided a person survives this first crude technique of immunization, variolation will prevent him getting the disease in a more serous form. This method of protection was employed in Europe until early in the 19th century and in remote populations of Ethiopia and Afghanistan was, until recently, widely prevalent.

Thus smallpox was the first disease to be made preventable by a modern method of immunization.

Among those who took a particular interest in Lady Mary Wortley Montagus’ experiences in Turkey was a young English doctor named Edward Jenner. He also made the crucial observation that milkmaids did not seem to get the deadly smallpox if they had first caught the relatively harmless cowpox from their animals. Jenner dared to wonder: could it be that material from a cowpox pustule might somehow prevent smallpox? He tried the experiment in 1967, when he inoculated material from the pustule on the hand of a dairymaid into the hand of a little boy of eight. About seven weeks, he inoculated the boy with matter from a smallpox pustule and, as he had expected, the boy did not contract the disease. He called the first material variola vaccinia in other words, the smallpox of cow.

No comments: