|Press Release WHA/11
21 May 1999
WHA COMMITTEE RECOMMENDS RESOLUTION ON SMALLPOX VIRUS
A committee of the 52nd World Health Assembly (WHA) today agreed by consensus to the "temporary retention, up to but not later than 2002, of the existing stocks of variola virus". This recommendation will be considered on Monday, 24 May, in a plenary session of the World Health Assembly.
The draft resolution, sponsored by 30 Member States, stipulates that the two known existing stocks of smallpox virus not be destroyed, as had previously been foreseen, "for the purpose of further international research into antiviral agents and improved vaccines, and to permit high-priority investigations of the genetic structure and pathogenesis of smallpox".
In 1996, the World Health Assembly agreed to the destruction, by 30 June 1999, of the two known stocks of smallpox virus - at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States of America and at the Russian State Centre for Research on Virology and Biotechnology in the Russian Federation subject to confirmation by this year's World Health Assembly. However, that destruction is now likely to be delayed.
The draft resolution affirms that "the final elimination of all variola virus remains the goal of the World Health Organization (WHO) and all Member States".
The draft resolution says that WHO will, not later than 2002, make a recommendation to the World Health Assembly and WHO's Executive Board on final destruction of the remaining stocks of smallpox virus.
The draft resolution calls upon WHO "to appoint a new group of experts which will establish what research, if any, must be carried out in order to reach a global consensus on the timing for the destruction of existing variola virus stocks". The experts are to come from all WHO regions, oversee the research and ensure the strict containment of the existing smallpox virus stocks.
"Any such research shall be funded by Member States or by other national or international bodies and shall be conducted in an open and transparent manner only with the agreement and under the control of WHO," the draft resolution says.
WHO will report the initial plans and recommendations of this group of experts, including relevant costs for WHO, to WHO's Executive Board in May 2000. WHO's work with the group of experts will depend on securing outside sources of funding, the draft resolution stipulates.
The last case of smallpox recorded was in 1978 in Somalia, and WHO declared the disease officially eradicated in 1980. Several World Health Assembly resolutions have expressed the desire of WHO's 191 Member States to finally rid humanity of one of the world's deadliest and oldest-known diseases.
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