TWN Info Service
on Health Issues (Mar 11/04)
15 March 2011
Dear Friends and colleagues,
RE: No compelling public health reason to retain
smallpox virus stocks
In 2005, the World Health Assembly (WHA) debate
on destruction of smallpox (variola) virus stocks heard governments
responding with concern to US plans to genetically engineer the extremely
dangerous virus. Smallpox is eradicated from nature and solely exists
at World Health Organization (WHO) Repository Laboratories in the US and Russia.
The discussion culminated in 2007 with a WHA resolution that states
that any research undertaken should not involve genetic engineering
of the variola virus. This includes genetic engineering of the smallpox
virus itself, and of other viruses with smallpox genes.
Nonetheless, dangerous research involving smallpox virus has continued,
despite repeated (and unimplemented) WHA resolutions that the virus
should be destroyed.
The virus was originally to be destroyed in 1999; but to date Russia
and the US have refused to do so, resulting in subsequent WHA resolutions
authorizing “temporary retention” of the virus until a new destruction
date is set.
In parallel and with the purpose of fixing a new date for virus destruction,
the WHO has conducted a “major review” of variola virus research for
presentation to the 64th WHA, which meets from 16-24 May 2011. The outcome
of this review, which found no compelling public health reason to continue
to retain the virus, provides the 64th WHA with clear justification
to terminate research involving live variola virus and to schedule the
prompt destruction of remaining variola virus stocks.
Please find attached a new Third World Network
briefing paper on the issue. It highlights the conclusions of the major
review, in particular the public health review, and provides recommendations
for concrete steps to be taken at the 64th WHA as well as suggestions
on how to deal with any resistance to fixing a new destruction date.
The paper also notes that fixing a prompt destruction date is the critical
first step to addressing synthetic biology risks.
the TWN paper
With best wishes,
Third World Network
131 Jalan Macalister,
Website: www.biosafety-info.net and www.twnside.org.sg
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