UN Decides Not to Destroy Last Known Smallpox Stockpiles

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The global organization decided to wait three more years to decide about what to do with the remains of the virus that once devastated the globe, the AP reports. Smallpox was eradicated in 1980, according to the United Nations, and officials have debated what to do with the live strains in the years since. Countries have put off the destruction of the virus in light of possible biological warfare that might someday happen -- if, for instance, unknown strains of smallpox survive beyond these stockpiles, the U.S., Russia, and other nations might require these samples to help stop the spread. Most people support the idea of destroying the remains of smallpox someday, but there's little consensus about when it should happen and what level of pre-destruction research will be sufficient. We'll see again in 2014.

After two days of heated debate, the 193-nation World Health Assembly agreed to a compromise that calls for another review in 2014.

The United States had proposed a five-year extension to destroying the U.S. and Russian stockpiles, arguing that more research is needed and the stockpiles could help prevent one of the world's deadliest diseases from being used as a biological weapon.

But many ministers at the decision-making assembly of the World Health Organization said they saw little reason to retain the stockpiles, and objected to the delay in destroying them.

The assembly declared smallpox officially eradicated in 1980, and the U.N. health agency has been discussing whether to destroy the virus since 1986.

Read the full story at the Associated Press.

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John Hendel is a writer based in Washington, DC, and a former producer at The Atlantic.

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