Monday, April 03, 2006

World Health Assembly Must Stop Dangerous Smallpox Experiments

News Release
3 April 2006

Health Assembly Must Stop Dangerous Smallpox Experiments

Non-governmental organizations are calling for the 59th World Health Assembly (WHA), which begins on May 22nd, to stop dangerous smallpox research, including genetic engineering experiments, and to quickly bring about the destruction of all remaining smallpox virus stocks. Discussions on a draft WHA resolution will begin at an intergovernmental working group that meets in Geneva on April 5th.

Third World Network and the Sunshine Project are calling on the WHA to adopt a resolution to dramatically reduce risky research with the smallpox virus and to replace a failed oversight committee with a more balanced successor. What is urgently needed is a body that will control smallpox virus research and restrict experiments to only those which are essential, thus quickly paving the way for final destruction of smallpox virus stocks.

On smallpox research, the NGOs are asking the WHA to:

* Stop all distribution of smallpox DNA except that necessary for maintaining diagnostic labs, and to prohibit genetic engineering of smallpox, as both create unnecessary and unacceptable biosafety and security risks;

* Withdraw the temporary authorization it granted to retain smallpox virus stocks for genetic sequencing, diagnostic tests and vaccine research, as there is broad agreement that live virus is not needed for these purposes;

* Withdraw temporary authorization for experiments to infect monkeys with the smallpox virus in favor of a safer approach that does not utilize smallpox virus, and;

* Stop temporarily authorized research (that uses smallpox virus) into antiviral drugs in less than two years.

To strengthen international oversight, the NGOs are asking the WHA to:

* Terminate the WHO Advisory Committee on Variola Virus Research which, in over six years of existence, has not developed rigorous oversight and review procedures, has not adequately tracked distribution of smallpox DNA, and has broadly failed to uphold the WHA's mandate to control smallpox research, and;

* Replace the disbanded committee with an oversight body that is geographically and scientifically balanced, that is transparent, and which will reassert international control until the virus stocks are destroyed.

At the 2005 WHA meeting, many governments expressed concerns and objections to US and Russian experiments proposed for approval by the committee, including the genetic engineering of smallpox and the splicing of smallpox genes into related viruses. (A report on the WHA discussion in 2005 is available at

Although the proposal to put smallpox genes in other poxviruses has been withdrawn, a number of dangerous experiments remain on the table. This could take place if the WHA does not act to stop them this year.

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