Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Statements by the President on Announcing U.S. Support for an International Program To Eradicate Smallpox.

May 18, 1965

PRESIDENT JOHNSON announced today that he has instructed the U.S. Delegation at the World Health Assembly, now in progress in Geneva, to pledge American support for an international program to eradicate smallpox completely from the earth within the next decade.

Although smallpox has been eliminated in the United States and other technologically advanced countries, it is still prevalent in Asia, Africa, and parts of Latin America, killing one out of every four victims.

The President pointed out that "as long as smallpox exists anywhere in the world, no country is safe from it. This dread disease spreads so rapidly, that even a single case creates the threat of epidemic. It is clear that every nation of the world, whether or not it has experienced smallpox in recent years, has a major stake in a worldwide eradication program."

The President's call for a worldwide war on smallpox was the second he has made recently on world health matters in connection with the U.S. observance of International Cooperation Year. The first announcement on April 21 urged the establishment of an International Adverse Drug Reaction Center.

At the present rate of inoculation against smallpox, the eradication of this disease is not in sight.

Yet experience has shown that with concerted international effort smallpox could be effectively wiped from the face of the earth. A highly efficient vaccine is available, and the recent development of jet injection equipment makes it possible to vaccinate entire communities with relative ease.

The technical problems of a worldwide vaccination campaign against smallpox are minimal. The administrative problems--including the assurance of an ample supply of vaccine, the personnel to administer the injections, and the coordinating mechanism-can be solved through international cooperation.

The President's announcement today followed a report by the Director-General of the World Health Organization to the World Health Assembly. The report stressed that the eradication of smallpox, though hampered since 1958 by insufficient resources, is an attainable goal by 1974--if greater resources are made available for an intensified attack upon it. This is the goal which the U.S. Delegation to the World Health Assembly has been instructed to support.

In making today's announcement the President stated:

"On June 10 last year I said that we now have the knowledge to reduce the toll from many diseases and to avert millions of separate tragedies of needless death and suffering. I noted that the United Nations had designated 1965 International Cooperation Year, and at that time I said that I proposed to dedicate 1965 to finding new techniques to serve man's welfare. Today I am pleased to announce that our search for new ways of improving the world's health have brought to light another opportunity through international cooperation to keep people from dying."

To help in the worldwide eradication of smallpox, the President's program of action includes:

Full support for the adoption by the World Health Organization of a smallpox eradication program with a goal for completion within a decade.

Contribution of technical personnel and other necessary resources to the Pan American Health Organization, the regional agency of the WHO, to step up the war against smallpox in Latin America.

Assisting in the establishment of laboratory facilities in the developing countries to help meet requirements of vaccine for the intensified program.

The President added: "This Government is ready to work with other interested countries to see to it that smallpox is a thing of the past by 1975-"

Note: For the President's comments of June 10, 1964, on the control of disease, see 1963-64 volume, this series, Book I, p. 764.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Statements by the President on Announcing U.S. Support for an International Program To Eradicate Smallpox. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/241461

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