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Ciptapangan Visitor
WHO concerned about Indonesian move on bird flu samples
posted by admin on 07/02/07

GENEVA : The World Health Organisation said on Tuesday that it was concerned about Indonesia's decision to stop sending human bird flu virus samples to laboratories overseas in anticipation of a commercial deal.

David Heymann, the WHO's assistant director-general for communicable diseases, said Indonesia had not shared virus samples since the beginning of the year.

The stance raised questions about a 50-year global network of free virus sharing that has been a cornerstone of overall efforts to tackle influenza, Heymann indicated in a conference call.

That WHO networking arrangement is currently in the course of renewal.

"Certainly we're concerned and that's why we were in Indonesia already in November talking with the health ministry about the situation" said Heymann.

Heymann said the WHO was waiting to see the exact contents of an agreement between Indonesia and the US vaccine maker Baxter International Inc, which is due to be signed on Wednesday.

"We anticipate that this memorandum of understanding will then modify the way in which Indonesia participates in the network for sharing of global influenza viruses," he added.

Until this year, Indonesia - which has suffered the largest number of human deaths due to bird flu in the world - has shared samples of infected human tissue with various laboratories worldwide as part of research efforts on the disease.

Confirmation of tests on samples from suspected human cases of bird flu by one of eight WHO reference laboratories around the world is a key part of prevention to detect emergence of a possible pandemic strain of human flu.

Health ministry spokeswoman Lily Sulistyawati said in Jakarta that the exclusive agreement with Baxter was aimed at the production of a vaccine against the H5N1 virus - the deadliest strain of avian influenza.

Heymann noted that global flu vaccine stockpiles were rarely kept in developing countries, despite the free sharing arrangement that fuelled vaccine research and development by pharmaceutical companies.

"These companies have gone on to produce vaccines using these viruses and Indonesia feels that they must be getting some compensation for the use of their viruses in production and marketing," he explained.

The WHO warned in a report to its 34 nation Executive Board in January that the sharing of more pathogenic H5N1 viruses raised a "unique set of issues not seen during routine sharing of seasonal influenza viruses".

Rapid sharing of all animal and human flu viruses was essential to assess the risk of a pandemic, produce up to date diagnostic tests, ensure the effectiveness of antiviral drugs and develop vaccines, it underlined.

"The sharing of H5N1 viruses and sequence data for vaccine research and development is therefore crucial for the protection of public health in all countries and is a collective responsibility," the report said.

However, it added: "A call for more rapid routine sharing of H5N1 viruses needs to be accompanied by measures that improve the prospects of access to pandemic vaccines in all countries and increase the supply."

The Executive Board, which does not include Indonesia, urged the annual assembly of all the WHO's 193 members in June to continue support for the Global Influenza Surveillance Network and the exchange of seasonal human influenza viruses.

It also wants them to to set up "mechanisms" for non-seasonal H5N1 virus samples and to broaden vaccine supplies.

Heymann said the UN health agency is due to hold a meeting with vaccine makers next week in Geneva. - AFP/de

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