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Last updated at 09:58 BST, Friday, 27 May 2011

Destruction of smallpox virus delayed


27 May 2011

Member states of the World Health Organisation (WHO), meeting in Geneva, have voted to postpone for a further three years a decision on whether to destroy the last remaining stocks of the deadly smallpox virus.

Imogen Foulkes

Smallpox virus

Photo: Eye of Science/Science Photo Library


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Smallpox was eradicated in 1979 but two stocks of live smallpox virus remain.

For years the debate over what to do with them has raged. In Geneva developing countries argued it was high time to destroy all known samples of a virus which in the past claimed millions of lives.

But the United States and Russia, the two countries which hold the virus samples, wanted to keep them for at least another five years saying that if smallpox ever re-emerged, either by accident or even deliberately, the samples could be needed to create a vaccine.

That argument seemed finally after days of division to sway member states, and they approved a compromise - postponing a decision on destroying the virus samples for another three years.

And so the fate of one of the world's deadliest viruses is still not decided and the debate over whether the world is safer with it, or without it, will continue.

Imogen Foulkes, BBC News, Geneva


Click to hear the words


was eradicated

was destroyed and is no longer a danger to public health around the world

has raged

has continued with strong opinions on either side

high time

an appropriate and right thing to do


small amounts of the virus used for research


came back


not as an accident but on purpose

to sway

to persuade

a compromise

a decision which everyone agreed on but is not really what either side wanted



the fate of

the future of

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