This photo of an infected child is included in the WHO slide set on the diagnosis of smallpox.

Ministers Weighing Destruction of Final Smallpox Stocks

It is on the agenda for the 64th session of the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, May 16-24.

One year after a statue was erected at World Health Organization headquarters to mark the 30th anniversary of the eradication of smallpox, health ministers from WHO’s member states could decide this week to destroy the final two stocks of the virus. The destruction is an agenda item for the 64th session of the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, May 16-24.

WHO launched a global campaign to eradicate smallpox in 1967, and the last recorded case was in Somalia in 1977. The 1980 World Health Assembly declared it eradicated. Following the eradication, WHO agreed to destroy remaining stocks of the virus by 1993. Developing countries supported the decision to destroy them, but the United States, among others, opposed it, saying the virus was useful for continuing research.

An article published in Nature discusses the implications of destroying the last two stocks, which are located at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and at the Russian State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology in Koltsovo, according to the article by Declan Butler.

WHO says its smallpox vaccine emergency stockpile stands at 32.6 million doses that are “stored safely and securely in Switzerland.” Five member states have pledged an additional 31 million doses to WHO if needed: France, Germany, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Smallpox, a contagious disease caused by the variola virus, had a devastating impact on much of the world for centuries. It killed about 30 percent of those who became infected and left survivors blind and disfigured, according to WHO.

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