Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Indonesia : 3 More People Die From Bird Flu

Heated Two Day Meetings Sees Indonesia Agreeing To Share Virus Samples With WHO

Three more Indonesians have died from H5N1 infections. Indonesia's confirmed human death toll stands at 69, but due to poverty, the isolation of some communities and the size of the archipelago, it is presumed the true figure is considerably higher.

From The Jakarta Post :
A 22-year-old woman died Saturday in Southern Sumatra's city of Palembang, followed by a 15-year-old boy Sunday in the West Java town of Bandung, and a 40-year-old man early Wednesday in East Java's capital of Surabaya, said Nyoman Kandun, a seniorhealth ministry official.

After a four month long standoff, Indonesia has agreeed to resume sharing samples of the bird flu virus with the World Health Organisation.

Indonesia had good reason to put pressure on the World Health Organisation to control how the virus samples were exploited by pharmacuetical companies.

Indonesia claimed it feared that the virus samples it handed over might be used by drug companies to create vaccines that it would not be able to afford to buy.

From the UK Guardian :
The WHO... promised not to share virus samples with vaccine companies without permission from countries that provide the specimens.

Indonesia had refused to share its samples without a guarantee they would not be used to develop vaccines unaffordable to developing countries.

For weeks the health minister had been demanding that the global body change its 50-year-old virus sharing system, in which it collects regular flu samples from all over the world and makes them available to vaccine makers and others.

International scientists had argued she was making it impossible to monitor the Indonesian virus to see if it was mutating into a more dangerous form.

WHO spokesman Dick Thompson said viruses would be monitored as they always have, but companies interested in using samples for vaccine development would have to get permission from the governments that provided them.

"Industrialized countries negotiate regularly for vaccines, and they've got stockpiles and vaccines,'' said Dr. David Heymann, WHO's top flu official. "There is no reason developing countries should not do the same thing.''

Indonesia's decision to withhold the virus had received support from some other developing nations, many of which sent health chiefs to Jakarta for the gathering that wraps up Wednesday.

Heymann earlier suggested several ways to ensure a fairer distribution of vaccines, including creating stockpiles of vaccines for use in poor countries and transferring technology so they can produce their own.

To ensure it has access to a bird flu vaccine, Indonesia has reached a tentative agreement with U.S. drug manufacturer Baxter Healthcare Corp. Under the deal, Indonesia would provide samples of the virus in exchange for Baxter's expertise in vaccine production.

Indonesia would have been unlikely to have won this concession, and this dramatic restructuring of a key platform of how the World Health Organisation does business with the world's biggest pharmacuetical and vaccines manufacturers had they not taken this stand.

The poorest nations in the world can now thank Indonesia for forcing the WHO to change its rule for the benefit of all humanity.

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