The Smallpox Eradication Programme - SEP (1966-1980)

May 2010

Vaccination of a child. Ethiopia, 1970s

2010 marks the 30th anniversary of the eradication of smallpox. Smallpox was officially declared eradicated in 1980 and is the first disease to have been fought on a global scale. This extraordinary achievement was accomplished through the collaboration of countries around the world.

At the end of the 1960s, smallpox was still endemic in Africa and Asia. Vaccination campaigns, surveillance and prevention measures aimed to contain epidemic hotspots and to better inform affected populations. All these strategies were used to combat the disease.

The photographs presented in the galleries below illustrate the various activities carried out to eradicate smallpox around the world. They show how the same eradication methods and strategies were repeated in very different countries around the globe.

View the photo gallery on vaccination
Before 1967, the smallpox eradication strategy relied on mass vaccination. However, this strategy was ineffective in densely populated regions where containment measures proved more effective.

View the photo gallery on prevention
Prevention activities aimed to stop transmission by finding and treating anyone who had been in close contact with infected people, thereby preventing transmission to others.

View the photo gallery on surveillance
Surveillance programmes reported cases and also collected morbidity and mortality data to better understand the disease and the effectiveness and duration of immunity from vaccines.

View the photo gallery on working conditions
Workers in the field often had to adapt to very difficult conditions. Finding an effective means of transport to reach remote villages was challenging, and team members often had to travel on foot.

View the photo gallery on the last cases of smallpox
Since smallpox was only transferred from person to person, the last infected person was the last link in the chain of transmission and represented the end of the disease in a country.

View the photo gallery on posters
WHO created posters to publicize the disease or to support programme activities aiming to eradicate smallpox. A selection of these posters are displayed here.

Related links


F. Fenner et al., Smallpox and its Eradication, WHO, Geneva, 1988