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WHO says global solidarity needed in COVID-19 battle

By CHEN WEIHUA in Brussels | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2020-05-09 03:14

File photo: WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. [Photo/Agencies]

The World Health Organization said on Friday that global solidarity is critical to fight COVID-19, which is what was displayed in the global battle to eradicate smallpox 40 years ago.

The World Health Assembly officially declared that "the world and all its people have won freedom from smallpox" on May 8, 1980. Smallpox is the first and, to date, only human disease to be eradicated globally.

"Its eradication stands as the greatest public health triumph in history," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a virtual news conference in Geneva.

Until it was wiped out, smallpox had plagued humanity for at least 3,000 years, killing 300 million people in the 20th century alone, according to the WHO.

"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," Tedros said.

He expressed that the smallpox eradication campaign had one crucial tool that the world doesn't have for COVID-19 yet: a vaccine. The smallpox vaccine was the world's first vaccine, developed in 1796.

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, according to the WHO.

"But although a vaccine was crucial for ending smallpox, it was not enough on its own," Tedros said. "The decisive factor in the victory over smallpox was global solidarity."

Tedros noted that, at the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union and the United States joined forces to conquer a common enemy.

"They recognized that viruses do not respect nations or ideologies," he said. "That same solidarity, built on national unity, is needed now more than ever to defeat COVID-19."

While Tedros did not name any countries specifically, he is likely to have been referring to the lack of cooperation between China and the United States. The US government has been busy playing blame games to deflect blame from the US government's mismanagement of the pandemic in a presidential election year.

The US has decided to halt its funding to theWHO, drawing sharp criticism at home and abroad.

After the US decision last month, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that it was "not the time" to cut funds to the WHO, which he said "is absolutely critical to the world's efforts to win the war against COVID-19".

Scholars from both China and the US have recently written open letters urging the two countries to step up cooperation in fighting the global pandemic.

In an article posted on the Brookings Institution website this week, Thomas Christensen, a nonresident senior fellow at Brookings and a former US deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said the two countries should seek cooperation to share best practices; to develop effective vaccines; to prepare in advance for mass manufacturing and global distribution of vaccines; to assist the neediest countries; to manage debt crises in the developing world; to preserve global trade.

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