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Wednesday, 7 April 1965

Mr SWARTZ (Darling Downs) (Minister for Health) . - by leave - Today is being observed throughout the 121 countries which are members of the World Health Organisation as World Health Day. There are, of course, many national and international " days " observed, or promoted, for a wide variety of reasons these days, but I would suggest that World Health Day deserves more than passing attention. It has been agreed that World Health Day this year should be used to focus attention on the dangers which smallpox poses to the world's population. Within Australia nobody has contracted smallpox for 27 years but it would be irresponsible to think that for this reason we are in no danger from the disease. The only thing which keeps the disease out of Australia is the constant alert maintained against it, and other pestilent diseases, by our quarantine authorities. But, of course, merely keeping the disease out of Australia is no final answer to the problem. Apart from our moral obligations we have a vested interest in the World Health Organisation campaign against the disease because it is only by the complete eradication of smallpox that the last dangers from it will be removed.

The World Health Organisation campaign is directed particularly towards vaccinating every member of the population in those countries in Asia, Africa and South America where smallpox is endemic. It is tragic to think that the means of preventing smallpox has been known since the end of the eighteenth century and yet that as late as 1951 there were 500,000 cases of smallpox in a year. In 1963 there were about 100,000 cases of smallpox in the world and 25,000 people died from it. Last year the total number of cases fell to about 50,000 and there were about 10,000 deaths.

Since the World Health Organisation vaccination campaign began in 1958 hundreds of millions of people have been vaccinated and given immunity from the disease and the number of cases has fallen. The most dramatic part of the whole campaign has been in India, where two thirds of all the cases of smallpox reported in 1963 occurred. In 1962 a gigantic vaccination programme was launched and by May of 1964, 53 per cent, of India's 450 million population had been vaccinated. This is a tremendous achievement - along with the World Health Organisation's campaign against malaria it is one of the greatest public health measures of all time. Through its membership of the World Health Organisation Australia has the honour of being involved in this wonderful work.

Meanwhile, on the home front we must maintain our constant alert against smallpox. Nobody can enter Australia by air without producing a current international certificate of vaccination or without undergoing a period of quarantine. Australians going overseas are strongly advised to be vaccinated against smallpox and those Australians who work in occupations which bring them into regular contact with overseas travellers are encouraged to be vaccinated. In addition the Commonwealth makes smallpox vaccine available, free of charge, for any voluntary vaccination campaigns run by the States and for vaccination of the staff of all public and private hospitals. This, of course, is a defensive attitude and it is very necessary. But we cannot ever expect to see smallpox defeated simply by retiring behind our isolation and our quarantine barricades, however good they are. Australia therefore must continue to support the World Health Organisation offensive against smallpox until the disease is finally eradicated.

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