The issue of destruction of smallpox virus stocks has been heatedly discussed at the World Health Assembly (WHA) for several years, particularly following recommendations from a WHO advisory committee in 2004 to greatly expand dangerous smallpox research, including genetic engineering experiments.
The 2006 WHA was unable to agree upon the text of a resolution on destruction of variola virus stocks, which are held in WHO authorized repositories in the US and Russia. Many developing countries, led by Africa, sought a resolution that established a destruction date for the virus (in June 2010), a prohibition on genetic engineering, annual substantive WHA review of virus research, and strengthened WHO oversight. The US refusal to consider fixing a new destruction date was problematic, and developing county offers of a compromise were also rejected. As a result, the WHO Executive Board is considering the draft resolution as it meets from 22-30 January 2007. NGOs are urging the Board to produce a strong resolution, given increasing indications that the US is expanding or intending to expand research with the smallpox virus and with smallpox genes.
The Oakland Institute's Senior Fellow Lim Li Ching reports...