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World Health Organiation, 1988

Target Zero: Smallpox Eradication Archive

The purpose of Smallpox—Target Zero is to be a comprehensive research archive documenting the global eradication of smallpox.

I believe that the important, longer-term contribution of smallpox eradication ... was its demonstration of how much could be accomplished with how little in the control of infectious diseases through community-wide vaccination programs.

DA Henderson, Smallpox—the Death of a Disease, p 304)

Smallpox eradication presented enormous management and logistical difficulties. A small WHO headquarters unit had to coordinate and motivate WHO regional offices, national ministries, some 750 international workers, and hundreds of thousands of health staff in 50 countries. Difficult field conditions and poor infrastructure were exacerbated by natural disasters, civil war, and the resulting refugees. Donations of sufficient funds and vaccine were constant problems. Communication with headquarters was limited almost exclusively to meetings, cables, and the mail.

Nonetheless, in just over 10 years, beginning in January 1967, some 10 million annual smallpox cases, with 2 million deaths, were reduced to zero. A person-to-person chain of transmission that had endured for thousands of years was broken.

A remarkable esprit de corps developed among participants that endures to this day. This site is a tribute to all those who contributed to the success of the program.

D.A. Henderson Archive
DA Henderson

Dr. DA Henderson (1928-2016)
Chief, WHO Smallpox Eradication Programme, 1967-76