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WHO Board Defers Date to Destroy Smallpox

http://www.nti.org/d_newswire/issues/2007_1_30.html#A9FF5474

The Executive Board of the World Health Organization last week reaffirmed the institution’s goal of destroying the last known stocks of smallpox virus, but recommended deferring a decision on the destruction date until at least 2010 (see GSN, May 30, 2006).

The only known samples of lethal strain, known as variola virus, are held in two laboratories in the United States and Russia, where they have been kept since the last case of smallpox infection was documented in 1978. The World Health Organization has repeatedly decided that these samples should be destroyed, but growing concerns about bioterrorism have led some scientists to urge keeping the samples to use for defensive study.

In a draft resolution passed Saturday, the WHO board recommended continuing study of the retention issue with the goal of reaching a consensus of WHO members in three or four years. The draft resolution is set to be reviewed by the World Health Assembly later this year.

The board “strongly reaffirms the decisions of previous Health Assemblies that the remaining stocks of variola virus should be destroyed,” the draft resolution says.

The draft resolution also calls on WHO officials to conduct a “major review” of smallpox research to help a future assembly “reach global consensus on the timing of the destruction of the existing variola virus stocks.” The recommended date of the decision, however, was not agreed by the board, which included 2010 and 2011 as possible years in bracketed text in the draft resolution (Greg Webb, Global Security Newswire, Jan. 30).

Meanwhile, the Australian National University plans an opening ceremony tomorrow for a new national biosecurity center that will study smallpox, among other deadly

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