Smallpox: NGOs Call on WHO to Address Concerns

Wed, 25 May 2005 08:19:27 -0500
News Release - 25 May 2005
Third World Network / The Sunshine Project

No World Health Assembly Approval for Expanding Smallpox Virus Research

NGOs Call for WHO to Address Concerns, Reconsider Recommendations, and Radically Restructure its Advisory Committee

(Geneva, 25 May) -- At the 58th World Health Assembly (WHA), which ended today, the leadership of the World Health Organization (WHO) was requested by member states to reconsider proposals to expand risky smallpox research and to reassess the process by which such research recommendations are produced.

WHA discussed, but did not approve, experiments to genetically engineer smallpox and other proposals that would dramatically expand risky experiments with live smallpox virus. Rather, it "noted" a report containing the proposals, after the WHO Secretariat "especially welcomed" and took "special note" of the serious cautions and criticisms made by member governments. WHO must now move to resolve the issues that governments have raised and which it has committed to address.

Most of the countries speaking about smallpox research expressed serious concerns. These included calls for ongoing research to be terminated, for greater transparency, for a new destruction date for remaining virus stocks, and for strengthened WHO oversight mechanisms that are more independent and scientifically and regionally balanced.

According to the Sunshine Project and Third World Network, WHO's leadership has been given a mandate to radically restructure its oversight of smallpox in the interim before destruction of the remaining stocks. This includes the terms of reference, membership, and procedures of it's Advisory Committee on Variola Virus Research (or "VAC", for Variola Advisory Committee). Once restructured, the VAC then needs to reconsider past recommendations and seek approval from the WHA before any research that goes beyond the existing limits (established in 1994) is allowed.

Governments requested that WHO smallpox oversight be transformed into a stronger and more independent process that separates research proponents from those who perform reviews, that is regionally-balanced, and which incorporates heretofore neglected perspectives of public health, biosafety, and preparedness for deliberate outbreaks of disease. NGOs say that major world regions are underrepresented or entirely unrepresented on WHO's current committee. WHO should heed the calls from governments and NGOs for this problem to be addressed.

Third World Network and the Sunshine Project are requesting that WHO take the following steps in response to the concerns and objections raised about smallpox virus research at the WHA:

1. Launch a transparent and balanced process to overhaul the VAC, including its terms of reference, membership, and procedures, aimed to:

a. Prevent research proponents from reviewing their own proposals,

b. Incorporate neglected areas of expertise, such as public health and biosafety,

c. Achieve regional balance among members and advisors,

d. Institute a separate, and transparent, laboratory safety review procedure

e. Reform committee modalities to create greater transparency, including that of subcommittees, and to create more frequent, high quality reporting to WHA.

2. Once the VAC has been so restructured, it should reassess its prior recommendations, forwarding revised ones to the WHA for its consideration and (dis)approval.

3. In keeping with prior WHA resolutions and as requested by member states, WHO should prepare a resolution to fix a new destruction date for all remaining stocks of smallpox virus.

4. Prepare a WHO Secretariat study for the next WHA on options for how possession of live smallpox virus may be deemed a crime against humanity following destruction of remaining stocks.

-- Guess who wants to genetically engineer smallpox? Learn more and send a letter to WHO at: http://www.smallpoxbiosafety.org Designer smallpox is a Pandora's Box Let's not open the lid!

Informant: billder


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