WHO puts off fixing date on destroying live smallpox stocks

The World Health Organization has deferred fixing a date on destroying the last known stocks of live smallpox for a further three years at their annual meeting on Tuesday.

Twenty-seven countries backed the position the U.S. and Russia have had for several decades to keep the stocks for research into the vaccines against the disease eradicated over 30 years ago. Seven countries were behind Iran, spearheading the movement to destroy the stocks of live smallpox virus immediately, reports Reuters.

Iran argued that there is a risk of stockpiles falling into the wrong hands and that there is existing technology to create anti-viral drugs and vaccines without the live variola virus.

"We're very satisfied,"  Nils Daulaire, director at the office of global health affairs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services told Reuters. "There had been talk there would be a call for immediate destruction. That most decidedly did not happen. We have made substantial progress over the last decade. Three years is a reasonable time period in terms of the next review."

Although Daulaire said he could not comment on Iran’s motives, he said that a clause seeking destruction of viruses held outside the two official stores was central to the quarrel with the U.S.

"The real concern that Iran had with the resolution was we had called for all countries to confirm they held no smallpox stocks and that any stocks they had ever held had been destroyed," Daulaire told Reuters. "That was unacceptable to them."

Tuesday was the final day of the annual meeting of health ministers and officials from the 192 WHO member nations. During the meeting, 28 resolutions and three decisions were made to guide future work, such as efforts to prevent non-communicable diseases like heart disease and better preparedness for a flu pandemic.

"This was the culmination of four years of very hard work, which at times faced issues that appeared hopelessly deadlocked," Margaret Chan, the WHO director said, according to Reuters."It vastly improves the world's capacity to prepare for the next influenza pandemic."