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WHO Prepares to Consider Smallpox Eradication Again

The World Health Organization is gearing up for a decision next year on the possible destruction of the remaining known smallpox stocks, the Medill News Service reported Tuesday (see GSN, May 21, 2007).

Smallpox was eliminated from nature three decades ago; however, Russia and the United States continue to hold samples for research purposes.

The World Health Assembly in 1996 directed that smallpox virus samples at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Russian State Center for Research on Virology and Biotechnology be eliminated within three years. That date has been pushed back repeatedly, and the assembly three years ago determined that a new schedule would be established in 2011.

For other countries, it's a case of "Big Brother Russia and Big Brother United States telling us what to do," said Donald A. Henderson, who led the WHO smallpox eradication program from 1966-1977. However, he argued against that view.

"We were the ones who really suffered for this disease and worked to get rid of it," Henderson said.

U.S. officials have argued that more research is necessary on smallpox, particularly given its potential use as an agent of bioterrorism.

The assembly, in its 2007 declaration on the matter, mandated a major review this year on past, present and potential future smallpox research to help inform the 2011 decision.

The World Health Assembly in 2007 said it still supported eradication of the U.S. and Russian samples, a stand supported by at least some observers.

Other nations might believe they need to acquire and store the smallpox virus if they see Moscow and Washington unwilling to give up their stocks, Edward Hammond, then-director of the Sunshine Project, wrote in 2007.

"The decades-old eradication job of WHO will be completed and the world will be safer, when the U.S. and Russian smallpox virus stocks are finally destroyed," he stated (United Press International, Aug. 24).

Note to our Readers

GSN ceased publication on July 31, 2014. Its articles and daily issues will remain archived and available on NTI’s website.

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