Smallpox was a global disease that killed millions of people all over the word.
In 1953, a Russian minister from the former Soviet Union, Professor Viktor Zhadnov proposed to the World Health Organization, that wealthy countries should band together and fund a global initiative to eradicate Smallpox. This involves vaccinating the entire world. Since many countries did not have the money or the means to implement an effective vaccination program, he argued that rich countries should pitch in and fund this initiative. At this time, the USA has effectively vaccinated the entire country and they had no case of smallpox. Initially, the USA rejected the idea as they felt that there was no need for the USA to be funding a global vaccination program. However with persistence from Professor Zhadnov , and the election of President Lyndon Johnston, USA took a lead in the global vaccination intuitive. The US was the largest contributor to this vaccination program. By 1972, smallpox was effectively eliminated from the world. My generation ( born between 1970 to 1978) were the last humans to come out with the scar of the smallpox vaccine.
This is an example of what a global initiative can do to the world.
Public health investments are long term, they benefit both the rich and poor although it is hard to understand the idea. For example, on the surface, our smallpox story seems like a good Samaritan initiative, perhaps appear as a socialistic idea. However, as it turned out, the smallpox eradication initiative was the most financially successful health intervention in the history.
How come such an idea that sounds so socialistic turns out to be a financial success?
Even though smallpox was nonexistence in the USA in 1960s, there was still a considerable cost burden to the government, as it still existed in many parts of the world. So the USA and other developed countries had to maintain a large stock pile of smallpox vaccine as well they had to vaccinate new born children. The Center for Disease Control ( CDC) later on calculated the financial impact of this global vaccination initiative , i.e., the cost of the global vaccination program against potential savings in not having an annual smallpox vaccination program . The CDC reports that funding the global vaccination program was the best financial outcome for the USA. To quote the CDC: “ the largest donor, the USA , saves the total of all its contributions every 26 days, making smallpox prevention through vaccination one of the most cost-beneficial health intervention”
If I can put in a business sense. You invest $x on a process improvement initiative in your manufacturing company, and you save $x dollar every 26 days. Isn’t that a brilliant financial decision?
Investment in public health is sometime hard to understand as these benefits are long term. Sometime, doing the right thing for ethical /moral reasons, will turn out to be financially sound over a long period of time.
Unfortunately, we are living in a hyper nationalist word, where there is no long term vision to lead any global initiative.
Imagine the same scenario happening now. The suggestion of using tax payers money to vaccinate poor countries will be a political suicide. Right wing news media will call out any politician who suggest this as a Marxist socialist , living in an utopian dream, not to mention the level of conspiracy theories that will be propagated.
It is important to realize that no nation can live in a bubble. Pathogens don't respect national boundaries.