Director of the Science and Development network calls for smallpox destruction

David Dickson, the director of the Science and Development Network, said in an editorial on Friday that delaying the destruction of smallpox virus stocks ignores concerns of developing countries.

A campaign by the World Health Organization started in 1967 wiped out within 20 years the disease that had caused millions of death and disfiguring scars. The last naturally occurring case of smallpox was in Somalia in 1977. Dickson wrote that the United States and Russia are preventing the public health community from claiming successful elimination through their reluctance to destroy the last known stocks, reports.

Dickson wrote that while research into the virus is important, it is not a strong enough argument to keep the stocks of smallpox in existence.

“A recent expert report points out that in the United States, most of this research is primarily required to meet regulations,” Dickson wrote, according to “And the case for such research is weakened further by the fact that there are now two effective vaccines. Both are widely considered capable of giving people enough protection against any future outbreak of the disease even though, for obvious reasons, testing has had to be restricted to animals. If, once the current stocks have been destroyed, a situation did arise where new research on the virus was considered essential, enough is now known about its genomic structure to rebuild it from scratch, using the techniques of modern synthetic biology.”

In addition, Dickson wrote that many observers think the supposed terrorist threat of smallpox is exaggerated due to the disease's slow spread and unpredictability and because the maintenance of existing stocks costs money that could be used for other pressing problems.

Dickson points out that developing countries are much more likely to sustain a heavy blow from a biological attack with smallpox than Russia or the United States. He wrote that destroying the stocks will rightly put the global good above the national interest of the two countries.

“The world deserves, and can do, better," Dickson wrote, according to "U.S. president Barack Obama, in particular, has indicated his desire to use science as a vehicle of 'soft diplomacy', exercising influence through moral leadership rather than military strength. A decision to destroy the smallpox virus stocks would be proof of such commitment. The next opportunity to do so will come when the World Health Assembly addresses the issue again in 2014. Obama may well still be in power; if so, the developing world will hope that by then he will have changed his mind.”