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Indonesia resumes sending Avian Flu virus samples to WHO

Saturday April 21, 2007
CBC News, Canada, reported that Indonesia has resumed sending samples of the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus to the World Health Organization, Indonesia Health Minister said Tuesday in calling for a share of any commercial vaccines that result.
A dispute over the sharing of bird flu samples in Indonesia, one of the countries worst affected by H5N1, has hampered WHO's efforts to get nations to prepare for a potential pandemic if the virus mutates into a form that spreads easily among people.
Poor countries provide virus samples that are used to develop commercial vaccines, but those nations often cannot afford to buy the vaccines, Indonesian Health Minister Siti Fadillah Supari told the agency's annual World Health Assembly in Geneva.
"There is an unfair mechanism in which avian flu virus samples are provided free by developing countries but drug companies patented this vaccine and are selling them at unaffordable cost for the developing countries," Supari told delegates.
"Sequences had been used for some parties for instance through research presentation, publication, commercialization, and request for patents without our consent. Such practice violates the spirit in which virus is given."
In Indonesia, 75 people have died from the H5N1, according to WHO. The Indonesian government stopped sharing virus samples with international laboratories in December, saying it felt exploited to multinational drug companies.
International scientists use the samples to check whether the virus is mutating into a more dangerous form.
Health Minister Supari said Indonesia resumed sending H5N1 virus samples to a WHO centre in Tokyo last week.
Avian flu remains largely an infection in birds. Since 2003, the H5N1 strain as infected at least 282 people worldwide and killed about 170 of them, mostly in Southeast Asia, according to WHO.
In the latest developments, on April 25, WHO officials, after meeting with governments and vaccine producers, said it might be feasible to set up a world stockpile of H5N1 influenza vaccine to help ensure that developing countries have access to pandemic flu vaccines. The WHO release said that the Agency would set up expert groups to discuss how to create, maintain, fund, and use an H5N1 vaccine stockpile and would continue working with member states and other partners on the problem of access to pandemic vaccines.
David Heymann, WHO's assistant director-general for communicable diseases, has said a stockpile of 40 million to 60 million doses is being considered, which would allow developing countries to vaccinate essential workers, such as police and healthcare workers, according to the CP story today.
However, Indonesia’s Health Minister Supari said yesterday that Indonesia would need 22 million doses of vaccine, which would protect about 10% of the country's population, the CP report said.
Just before the Apr 25 meeting, the WHO also announced it was awarding grants to six countries to help them develop the capacity to make flu vaccines. The grants of up to $2.5 million each will go to three countries hit hard by H5N1 avian flu—Indonesia, Vietnam, and Thailand—plus Brazil, Mexico, and India, the WHO said. The money will come from $10 million supplied by the United States and $8 million from Japan.
Meanwhile, in a most recent Press Release issued by the Indonesian Department of Health, it was mentioned that Indonesia’s Health Minister, Siti Fadillah Supari had been voted into the WHO Executive Board for 2007-2010 during the WHO 60th Assembly. Indonesia sees this as the strong support and recognition given to this country in its fight to correct WHO mechanism on sharing H5N1 sample virus, to be more transparent and just, based on the principle of prior informed consent, and the benefits of virus sharing with special regard to the needs of  developing countries.