Expert calls for single smallpox facility

Dr. Isao Arita, who worked for years at the World Health Organization, recently suggested that the smallpox virus be kept at a United Nations/WHO facility instead of separate facilities in both Russia and the United States.

Arita, currently the director emeritus at the Kumamoto Medical Center in Kumamoto, Japan, made his argument in response to an article in the March 2011 issue of Biosecurity and Bioterrorism: Biodefense Strategy and Practice, according to

The destruction of all stocks of variola, according to Arita, would mean the end of all research on smallpox, making it impossible to regain any research capacity in the future.

“Certainly the two existing labs should have today's highest security system with retention of partial stocks of the virus, but the risk of a virus escape is not zero,” Arita wrote, according to “Thus, the retention for research would be acceptable only if the research offers significant likelihood of reduction of threat or disaster if smallpox returned.”

The fear of a return of smallpox would be justified, in part because the global population vaccinated against smallpox would only be 30 percent by 2050.

“Unfortunately, many questions remain regarding real world practices that need to be activated if and when smallpox outbreaks occur, especially in poor regions,” Arita said, according to “There is a real need for practical and managerial research pertaining to vaccine quality standardization, methods for stockpile maintenance, epidemiologic surveillance, vaccine efficacy assessments—there are many practical problems needing research.”

Arita sees the construction of a UN/WHO repository and the transfer of virus stocks taking considerable time, but said that research could continue uninterrupted. Additionally, he sees the repository as potentially becoming what he called the U.N. Research Laboratory for Biosecurity.

The new research center’s functions could include surveillance for hidden virus stocks and work on virus synthesis, with labs engaged in research with the potential to stir up dual-use dilemmas, reports.