WHO decides not to decide on remaining smallpox stockpiles

Smallpox is one of the few diseases against which humans have actually declared total victory. That happened in 1980, and it took roughly 10,000 years--give or take--to win that war. So, why on earth would the U.S. want to preserve for the next five years the last two remaining stocks of the virus that causes smallpox? Research into countermeasures should the virus reappear, the U.S. says, much to the annoyance of other nations who fear that, in the wrong hands, the virus could make for a devastating biological weapon. Today, the World Health Organization chimed in on the controversy, ruling that...well, ruling that it wants to wait longer before making a decision.

Shortly after the WHO decided not to decide if the smallpox song is over, Nature's Declan Butler had a conversation with with Nils Daulaire, director of the Office of Global Health Affairs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and head of the U.S. delegation to the Geneva meeting. He blamed Iran for the delay. Daulaire told Butler that Iran has a problem with a clause in the U.S. resolution that would have demanded that all countries affirm to WHO that they do not possess "undeclared stocks" of the virus.

It does seem a bit frightening that Iran would have a problem with this clause. Right now, the only known stockpiles are in Russia and Atlanta, presumably under tight security--one would hope. And there it will stay for at least another three years, when WHO will "resume the discussion," according to a Reuters report.

- read Butler's Nature Newsblog post
- and Reuters filed this report