Head to head

Should the US and Russia destroy their stocks of smallpox virus?

BMJ 2007; 334 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39155.695255.94 (Published 12 April 2007)
Cite this as: BMJ 2007;334:774

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  1. Edward Hammond, director
  1. Sunshine Project, PO Box 41987, Austin, TX 78704, USA
  1. hammond{at}sunshine-project.org

    Smallpox was eradicated in 1980, but the virus still exists in WHO controlled depositories. Edward Hammond maintains that stocks should be destroyed to prevent the disease re-emerging, but John Agwunobi insists further research is essential for global security

    The World Health Organization is justly proud of the global effort that led to the eradication of smallpox; but the truth is that the job remains unfinished. Although it is almost 30 years since the last natural transmission of smallpox virus (Variola),1 laboratories in the United States and Russia retain virus stocks.

    The destruction of remaining Variola stocks is an overdue step forward for global public health and security that will greatly reduce the possibility that this scourge will kill again, by accident or design. Although deploying modern scientific techniques such as genetic engineering on smallpox virus may be intellectually intriguing, the risks far outweigh the potential benefits.

    In 1990, the US secretary of health and human services, Louis Sullivan, made a pledge on behalf of the US government. “There is no scientific reason not to destroy the remaining stocks of wild virus,” he declared, “So …

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