BANGKOK, Thailand -- The U.S. and Russia should destroy their deadly
smallpox stockpiles or be "guilty of crimes against humanity," because
the virus slaughtered hundreds of millions of people before it was
stopped in 1980 and would kill again if it escapes a laboratory, the
American who led the global eradication said.

"There were two laboratories that have smallpox, we know that for
sure, one was the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) in Atlanta, and
the second was the Institute of Virus Preparations in Moscow," Dr.
Donald A. Henderson said in an interview.

"There, the virus is -- we believe -- sequestered.  All [other]
countries have signed off that they don't have any smallpox," said Dr.
Henderson, who led the World Health Organization's (WHO's) Global
Smallpox Eradication Campaign which declared worldwide success 35
years ago.

Dr. Henderson was here in Bangkok, Thailand, to receive the annual
$100,000 Prince Mahidol Award in the Field of Public Health on January

During the 20th century, smallpox killed 300 million to 500 million
people, the Prince Mahidol Award Foundation said.

Today, scientists in America and Russia "are doing research, on
certain components" of the smallpox virus, according to Dr. Henderson.

"There are those who say: 'It would be better to keep it. We might
have questions we cannot anticipate now, that we will not answer,
unless we have the original material'.

"I am on the other side saying that may be possible, but it's quite remote.

"I would feel happier if we had the destruction, and a [United
Nations] resolution basically to say: 'Any country, any scientist, any
laboratory with smallpox virus after date X, is guilty of crimes
against humanity'," Dr. Henderson said.

"We have reserves of smallpox vaccine, and they're quite considerable.
And they do seem to be very stable. But still, if they were released,
it would be hell on wheels."

Today, Dr. Henderson is a professor of medicine and public health at
Pittsburg University, and university distinguished service professor
at Johns Hopkins University.

A similar Cold War-style strategy which threatened mutually assured
destruction, and thus enabled the Pentagon and the Kremlin to keep
their nuclear weapons, is echoed by American scientists and officials
who want to keep the U.S. smallpox virus stockpile.

After WHO's successful worldwide eradication in 1980, Dr. Henderson
discovered -- during high-level discussions in America about
destroying the stockpiled virus -- that "the resistance to considering
the idea was very high.

"I remember, I was actually sitting in the National Research Council
when this was discussed in the U.S., and they said: 'Well, suppose we
destroy ours and the Russians don't destroy theirs?'

"And my question was: 'Do you have in mind that we would use smallpox
virus as an attack agent?'"

The stockpile supporters replied, according to Dr. Henderson: "Oh no,
no, no, we wouldn't want do that. That's terrible. No, no, no, no."

But Dr. Henderson then realized the existence of America's real politick.

"Well, when it comes down to the nitty-gritty, what would you really
do? It still becomes a bit of a problem, and there's a certain
knee-jerk reaction on this," he said.

Meanwhile, the biggest viral health threat facing the world today is
the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) which causes Acquired Immune
Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), he said.

"AIDS is involving 35 million people now. We do not have a vaccine.
The treatment is not complete for anyone, they're taking it for life.

"It's not easy to keep these people on drugs indefinitely. That's a
problem. And the cost of this is just mounting exponentially."

Complacency about various viruses will result in future problems.

"I think one of the biggest mistakes is, we get overconfident and this
is exactly what happened with regard to Ebola."

Ebola reportedly killed more than 8,000 people, mostly in Africa,
since the latest outbreak in March.


Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist from San Francisco,
California, reporting news from Asia since 1978.