UN puts off destroying last smallpox viruses

May 25, 2011

Health ministers from around the world agreed Tuesday to put off setting a deadline to destroy the last known stockpiles of the smallpox virus for three more years, rejecting a U.S. plan that had called for a five-year delay.

After two days of heated debate, the 193-nation World Health Assembly agreed by consensus to a compromise that calls for another review in 2014.

The United States had proposed a five-year extension to destroying the U.S. and Russian stockpiles, arguing that more research is needed and the stockpiles could help prevent one of the world's deadliest diseases from being used as a biological weapon.

But opponents at the decision-making assembly of the said they saw little reason to retain the stockpiles, and objected to the delay in destroying them.

Dr. Nils Daulaire, head of the U.S. Office of Global and the chief American delegate to the assembly, expressed some disappointment but said the compromise was satisfactory.

"We were disappointed that despite the fact that we had extremely strong support for a resolution that would have even more strongly endorsed the program of research and that a majority of that support came from the global south, that Iran almost unilaterally blocked that," he said. "We could have won a vote if we had chosen to go that route, but it was not the way we view the well-being of both WHO processes and ."

The assembly, like the U.N. General Assembly, is a world forum whose decisions aren't legally binding. It declared officially eradicated in 1980, and the U.N. health agency has been discussing whether to destroy the virus since 1986.

Then in 2007, the health assembly asked WHO's director-general to oversee a major review of the situation so that the 2011 assembly could agree on when to destroy the last known stockpiles.

Daulaire said the U.S. would act in accordance with the decisions made by the assembly.

"We're very committed to consensus decisions at WHO," he said. "We believe even more strongly that WHO is a very important institution and that it has moral force and that maintaining consensus and acting on the basis of that consensus is critical for global public health."

WHO officials said in a statement that the assembly "strongly reaffirmed the decision of previous assemblies that the remaining stock of smallpox (variola) virus should be destroyed when crucial research based on the virus has been completed."

Explore further: A little wine might help kidneys stay healthy

2 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

WHO puts back decision on smallpox virus samples

May 24, 2011

After two days of dispute over the future of smallpox virus samples, member states of the World Health Organization decided Tuesday to postpone their negotiations on the issue for three years.

Experts debate destroying last smallpox viruses

May 13, 2011

(AP) -- Smallpox, one of the world's deadliest diseases, eradicated three decades ago, is kept alive under tight security today in just two places - the United States and Russia.

World was 'lucky' with swine flu: WHO chief

May 17, 2010

World Health Organisation chief Margaret Chan said Monday that the world had been "lucky" with the swine flu pandemic after the virus failed to mutate to a more deadly form.

Egypt may have eradicated the polio virus

Jan 25, 2006

Scientists believe the world's first cases of polio occurred about 5,000 years ago in Egypt, but now that nation has apparently eradicated the virus.

Recommended for you

Saudi Arabia reports pilgrim infected with MERS

4 hours ago

In the past 24 hours, Saudi Arabia has reported four new deaths from a Middle East virus related to SARS and 36 more cases of infection, including a Turkish pilgrim in Mecca.

User comments : 8

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

frajo
2 / 5 (2) May 25, 2011
more research is needed and the stockpiles could help prevent one of the world's deadliest diseases from being used as a biological weapon.
Some governments have shown and still show their disdain for international law. These countries are not trustworthy. Their "We need this weapon to prevent its use" is nothing but a concealed threat to use the weapon against the rest of the world.
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (1) May 25, 2011
Frajo, it was shown that destroying smallpox won't stop small pox.

A geneticist could perform some basic manipulation of the chicken or monkey pox virii and create small pox anew while we'd have no information or manner by which to manufacture a vaccine.

Destroying the last small pox virii won't ensure any safety from small pox.
Beat_Maker_Software
not rated yet May 25, 2011
I agree with this sentence "Destroying the last small pox virii won't ensure any safety from small pox."
Na_Reth
not rated yet May 25, 2011
Frajo, it was shown that destroying smallpox won't stop small pox.

A geneticist could perform some basic manipulation of the chicken or monkey pox virii and create small pox anew while we'd have no information or manner by which to manufacture a vaccine.

Destroying the last small pox virii won't ensure any safety from small pox.

But it might ensure the abuse of the stored smallpox.
Meaning it would lower the amount of people able to abuse this virus.
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (1) May 25, 2011
But it might ensure the abuse of the stored smallpox.
Meaning it would lower the amount of people able to abuse this virus.
It would also drastically limit our ability to react to the abuse of the virus.
Na_Reth
not rated yet May 25, 2011
Why is that? We have the know-how to make a vaccine right? And if anyone would abuse this virus i would expect them to use a mutated kind. Also the virus is in the infected human itself, why would we need it stored somewhere? We don't.
jjoensuu
not rated yet May 25, 2011
I guess it will be useful for population reduction?
scidog
not rated yet May 26, 2011
note it said "known" stock of virus.who really knows whether or not a sample is held in private or by a rogue state like North Korea.holding a sample for study is a smart idea.

More news stories

Researchers trace HIV adaptation to its human host

"Much research has focused on how HIV adapts to antiviral drugs – we wanted to investigate how HIV adapts to us, its human host, over time," says lead author Zabrina Brumme from Simon Fraser University.