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World Health Assembly Delays Destruction Of Smallpox Reserves For Three Years

Following “two days of heated debate,” representatives meeting at the World Health Assembly in Geneva decided to delay for three years the destruction of smallpox virus reserves held by the U.S. and Russia, rejecting a U.S. plan that would have delayed the action for five years, the Associated Press reports (5/24). 

The U.S. and Russia led the campaign to keep virus stocks, while Iran headed up a group of nations looking to eliminate reserves of the disease, which was eradicated more than three decades ago, according to Reuters (Lewis, 5/24). “Since then, there has been a debate between so-called destructionists, who argue that the world will be safer with the last virus gone, and so-called retentionists, who argue that more research on vaccines, therapies, and diagnostics is needed because bioterrorists might one day get their hands on hidden stashes of the virus,” Science’s “ScienceInsider” writes (Enserink, 5/24).

Reuters also reports that the WHA passed “28 resolutions and three decisions on guiding future work” (5/24). They included statements on strengthening health systems, preventing non-communicable diseases, eradicating polio and improving access to water and sanitation, according to a WHO press release (5/24).

Nature reports on a WHO reform proposal approved last week at the WHA meeting and how the agency may move forward to “bring the biggest changes to the agency in its 63-year history” (Butler, 5/24).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.