World health report

Executive summary

Declaring war on disease

WHO's first two decades were dominated by mass campaigns to control diseases such as leprosy, malaria, smallpox, syphilis, tuberculosis and yaws. Between 1950 and 1965, for instance, 46 million patients in 49 countries were successfully treated with penicillin against the tropical disease yaws, making it no longer a significant public health problem in most of the developing world. By 1955 the number of malaria cases worldwide had dropped by at least one-third; but by 1970 eradication of the disease was seen to be impracticable.

The same was not true of smallpox. An eradication campaign that began in 1966, when up to 2 million people a year were dying of smallpox, ended in 1980, when the disease had disappeared from the face of the earth.

These mass campaigns against single diseases gave way to WHO's Expanded Programme on Immunization aimed at protecting by the year 2000 all children against six vaccine-preventable diseases - measles, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, poliomyelitis and tuberculosis. Global coverage with the vaccines reached its peak in 1990, when the goal of immunizing 80% of all children by the age of 1 year was achieved. The long-term goal of the multiagency children s vaccine initiative, launched in 1990, is to achieve a world in which all people at risk are protected against vaccine-preventable diseases, if possible by means of a single procedure.