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Homeland Security

WHO: Indonesia Not Sharing Bird Flu Virus Samples

06 August 2007

The World Health Organization says all countries, with the exception of Indonesia, are sharing their avian influenza viruses. WHO says the failure to share virus samples could retard the development of an effective bird flu vaccine and could increase the dangers of a potential pandemic. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

The World Health Assembly passed a resolution requiring all countries to share their avian influenza viruses. WHO Assistant Director-General for Communicable Diseases, David Heymann, says countries that do not share viruses are not in compliance with that resolution.

He tells VOA it is important for governments to share viruses they isolate from humans because the virus mutates in an unpredictable manner.

"So, by not sharing viruses, Indonesia is actually harming two things," said Dr. Haymann. "It is putting in danger its own population because if those viruses are not freely shared with industry, vaccines will not contain the elements of the Indonesia infections."

"And, the second thing that Indonesia is doing is, therefore, putting the whole world at risk, the public health security of the world at risk because they are not sharing viruses," he added.

Dr. Heymann says the Indonesian government is aware of these issues. He says he is hopeful that Indonesia will fall in line, but there is no guarantee this will happen.

Indonesia suspended its voluntary transfer of avian flu virus samples to the World Health Organization early this year. It complained pharmaceutical companies in western countries were using its viruses to develop a vaccine and that developing countries would not benefit from this research.

Dr. Heymann says WHO is developing ways to make sure the benefits from a vaccine would be broadly shared. He says this has already begun. WHO has a stockpile of 50 million doses of available H5N1 vaccines, which would be distributed to countries in need.

He says WHO also is helping developing countries that want to produce their own vaccines.

"WHO has given grants to six countries in the world, six developing countries, after having received proposals from them to transfer technology using resources that have been provided by the United States, Japan and the Asian Development Bank and Canada," said Dr. Haymann.

"So, WHO is working to help transfer the technology. That would be a sustainable means of making sure that pandemic vaccines were available. And, then in addition developing a mechanism to be sure that vaccine could be obtained during a pandemic," he continued.

The countries that have requested help in developing their own bird flu vaccines are Brazil, Mexico, India, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.

The World Health Organization reports 192 people have died from bird flu. Indonesia, with 81 reported deaths, is the most severely affected country.

So far, avian influenza is a largely animal disease. But, WHO warns millions of people could become infected if the H5N1 bird flu virus mutates into a form that could be easily spread from one human to another.

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