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DEVELOPMENT REPORT – February 4, 2002: WHO and Smallpox - 2002-02-01

This is the VOA Special English Development Report.

The World Health Organization has delayed the destruction of the last remaining supply of smallpox virus in the world. Officials had planned to destroy the virus this year. However, they became concerned after the September eleventh terrorist attacks in the United States. Many people are concerned that extremist groups or governments may try to use smallpox as a weapon.

The head of the World Health Organization, Gro Harlem Brundtland, strongly urged that supplies of the virus be saved. She spoke at a W-H-O meeting of health officials and scientists in Geneva, Switzerland last month. Doctor Brundtland said that keeping the virus alive will help researchers develop new medicines to prevent and treat the disease. She said it is impossible to test new drugs if no supplies of the smallpox virus exist.

Two laboratories in the world are currently carrying out research on smallpox. They are in Russia and the United States.

In Nineteen-Sixty-Seven, the World Health Organization launched a campaign to end smallpox around the world. The goal was to give everyone the vaccine medicne that prevents the disease. The W-H-O officially declared the world free from smallpox in Nineteen-Eighty. If the disease became active again, scientists believe it would create a very dangerous situation.

Smallpox is believed to have started more than three-thousand years ago in India or Egypt. It is an infectious disease caused by the variola virus. Approximately thirty percent of reported cases result in death. The disease is spread by particles from an infected person’s breath.

There is no cure for smallpox. However, the vaccine that prevents it from developing in the body is very effective. The vaccine must be given within four days of someone breathing in the virus. Some of the side effects caused by the vaccine can also be harmful. This is why health officials say only those people working with the virus or others directly at risk should take the vaccine.

The W-H-O has asked for a report in two to three years on progress made in smallpox treatment research. Officials say the research program should be completed as quickly as possible. Then a new date for the destruction of the world’s remaining smallpox virus can be set.

This VOA Special English Development Report was written by Jill Moss.