Destruction of smallpox virus samples discussed by WHO

At a meeting of the World Health Organization in Geneva on Monday, the question of when Russia and the United States will destroy their smallpox virus samples remained unanswered.

The question surrounding the destruction of these last remaining official stocks held in Russian and U.S. laboratories has recurred at the WHO since 1986, with 20 countries saying that immediate destruction of the virus should be imposed, reports AFP.

Moscow and Russia want to keep the virus for scientific reasons, continuing research on the vaccines to prevent resurgence of the transmissible disease which was eradicated in 1979. They fear some countries may have kept the virus secretly to be used as a biological weapon.

A draft resolution was put forward on Monday to the 193 WHO member states in which the WHO would discuss a possible date for the samples’ destruction in five years time.

"We feel that we do not have sufficient guarantees on the efficiency and the preparation of the vaccines," the Russian envoy said, according to AFP. "Destruction will be irreversible. (It is necessary to be) doubly prudent on a question that concerns security of all humanity. After the research, we can determine a date."

The countries in support of the move included Canada, members of the European Union, Israel, Colombia, Monaco and China. Those strongly against the resolution included north African states, Thailand, Iran, Malaysia and Zimbabwe.

The WHO created a working group to work toward a compromise draft later on Monday.