WHO establishes third committee to broker consensus on smallpox destruction

The WHO recently postponed a decision again on whether to destroy the last stocks of the smallpox virus.

Representatives from member states agreed at the World Health Assembly from May 19-24 in Geneva to establish a third smallpox advisory committee to broker a consensus on the issue, Nature.com reports.

The Assembly discussed destroying the smallpox stockpiles at the 2011 meeting, and delegates postponed any decision on when to carry out the act until this year's Assembly in Geneva.

The two existing WHO committees examining the smallpox issue disagreed on whether the stockpiles should be destroyed. The WHO's Advisory Committee on Variola Virus Research (ACVVR) said that while a live virus was no longer needed to develop vaccines, it could still be used for antiviral drugs. The advisory group of independent experts to review the smallpox research programme (AGIES) said there was no research justification for keeping the stockpiles, according to Nature.com.

The ACVVR is often perceived to focus on research interests while the AGIES is more dedicated to public-health interests. The third advisory committee will bring together a mix of scientists and public health and other experts, Nature.com reports.

The remaining stockpiles of smallpox in the world are held in two labs, the CDC in Atlanta, Ga., and the Russian State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology in Koltsovo.