Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Indonesia Defiant on Refusal to Share Bird Flu Samples

JAKARTA, Indonesia, March 26 — Indonesian health officials remained defiant today at the start of a three-day meeting with the World Health Organization saying Indonesia refused to share its H5N1 bird flu samples with the organization’s researchers unless their country is guaranteed affordable access to vaccines.

Indonesia’s announcement in February that it would not share its samples has been criticized by researchers as a major departure from a 50-year-old worldwide system of free virus sharing, one that would severely limit the ability of the World Health Organization to monitor the ever-changing virus.

But the country has stood firm on the need to change a system that it says keeps life-saving pharmaceuticals out of the reach of poor countries.

“We must work together to change the perverse incentives that have resulted in developing countries being disadvantaged,” the Indonesian health minister, Siti Fadillah Supari, said today in her opening remarks.

Supari said she also urgently wanted assistance for poor nations in developing “domestic vaccine production.”

Indonesia has had the greatest number of human cases of the H5N1 strain of bird flu. Of 281 cases worldwide, 81 were recorded there, and 63 of those were fatal.

David Heymann, assistant director general for communicable diseases at the World Health Organization, said today that he recognized the inequalities in the current virus-sharing system. But he also emphasized the importance of sharing viruses to help protect global health.

“It is critical that all developing countries have access to pandemic vaccines,” Heymann said. “At the same time it is critical that the world share its novel influenza viruses” for risk assessment and the development of vaccines.

Countries now send samples of the virus to research centers accredited by the World Health Organization in the United States, Britain, Japan and Australia. Those centers develop potential vaccines that are freely shared with pharmaceutical companies, which then manufacture vaccines that are often too expensive for most developing nations.

Triono Soendoro, director general of Indonesia’s National Institute of Health, said in an interview that it often takes weeks to send the virus abroad and to receive the resulting research. He said a way must be worked out to allow more research to be done in Indonesia.

Officials said they hoped to reach an initial agreement by Wednesday that would spur Indonesia to resume sharing its samples. Changes in the sharing mechanism is to be discussed in April and May.

Public health officials have long feared that the H5N1 strain of bird flu, which now mainly infects poultry and other birds, could mutate into a form more easily passed between humans, sparking a pandemic. (www.nytimes.com)

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Egyptian boy, 2, tests positive for bird flu

By Aziz El-Kaissouni

CAIRO, March 19 (Reuters) - A 2-year-old Egyptian boy has tested positive for bird flu, bringing the number of people who have contracted the disease in the most populous Arab country to 26, the Health Ministry said on Monday.

The ministry identified the boy as Youssef Mohamed Mahmoud and said he was admitted to hospital on Friday in Aswan, the same southern city where a 10-year-old girl tested positive for the disease last week. She has since recovered.

"He's in good condition now because Tamiflu was given within 24 hours after the onset of symptoms," John Jabbour, a World Health Organisation official in Cairo, told Reuters.

Jabbour said there was no apparent link between the two Aswan cases, and the Health Ministry said in a statement that members of the boy's family were under observation.

Since the virus first surfaced in Egyptian poultry in early 2006, 13 Egyptians have died from the disease. Most of those who fell ill were reported to have had contact with sick or dead household birds, primarily in northern Egypt.

Egypt has the largest number of confirmed human cases outside of Asia, and with eight confirmed cases this year is among the hardest-hit countries worldwide for 2007.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation's chief veterinary officer Joseph Domenech said on Thursday that Egypt was one of three countries that still do not have sufficient bird flu controls in place.

Health experts fear the H5N1 virus could mutate into a form that passes easily from human to human, sparking a pandemic that could kill millions. The virus has killed 169 people worldwide since 2003, according to WHO. (Additional reporting by Alaa Shahine)

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Indonesia refuses to share bird flu samples with WHO without legally binding agreement

(Mar 13, 2007) JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) - Indonesia will not share bird flu samples with the World Health Organization without a legally binding agreement promising the virus won't be used to develop an expensive commercial vaccine, the health minister said Tuesday.

Siti Fadilah Supari, digging her heels in following a weekslong standoff with the global body, said a letter of guarantee from WHO's director general Margaret Chan late last month was not good enough.

"We will not share the virus before there is a Material Transfer Agreement,'' she told reporters, adding that she hoped one would be drafted during a bird flu meeting in Jakarta in late March between Asia Pacific health leaders and WHO.

Several countries are developing vaccines to protect against H5N1, the bird flu virus strain blamed for 167 human deaths worldwide - more than a third of them in Indonesia.

The virus remains mainly an animal disease, but experts fear it may mutate into a form that easily spreads between humans, potentially killing millions.

Indonesia is worried that large drug companies will use its bird flu samples, sent to WHO affiliated laboratories to confirm human infections, to make vaccines that will ultimately be unaffordable for developing nations.

Chan told Supari in a Feb. 28 letter seen by The Associated Press that WHO would use Indonesia's strain of the virus "for public health risk assessment purposes only.''-AP

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

China denies being source of bird flu virus

BEIJING - China’s southern Guangdong province is not the source of the dangerous H5N1 bird flu virus as claimed in a report published in the United States this week, a major state-run Chinese newspaper said on Wednesday.

“The findings, which say Guangdong is the source of the multiple avian flu virus strains spreading both regionally and internationally, are the wrong conclusion to the evidence and lack credibility,” the China Daily quoted He Xia, a Guangdong agricultural official, as saying.

It did not elaborate.

The team at the University of California Irvine reported that Guangdong appeared also to be the source of renewed waves of the H5N1 strain, which has killed or forced the destruction of hundreds of millions of birds.

The researchers looked at samples of the virus taken from across China and as far west as Russia.

The researchers said China’s northwest Qinghai province was another source of bird flu’s spread.

Since 2003, H5N1 has spread to more than 50 countries as far away from China as Nigeria and Britain. The real fear is that the virus could mutate into a form that can easily pass from person to person, sparking a pandemic.

So far it has infected 277 people and killed 167, according to the World Health Organisation.

A woman farmer in southeast Fujian province was last week confirmed as China’s 23rd human case of bird flu.

China, with the world’s largest poultry population and millions of backyard birds roaming free, is seen as key to the fight against bird flu.

Tibet has recorded China’s latest outbreak of the disease in birds, the Ministry of Agriculture said on its Web site (agri.gov.cn) on Wednesday.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Stockpiling bird flu vaccine could help poor countries
Associated Press

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Building a stockpile of bird flu vaccine would help ensure poor countries don't lose out if a virus starts killing people worldwide, the World Health Organization's top flu official said Friday.

Up to 500 million doses of vaccine can now be produced, far short of the amount needed if people begin falling ill from bird flu en masse. Indonesia and other developing countries in Asia fear the limited supply of vaccine would be out of reach for them, even though they provided the viruses to make it.

A so-called virtual stockpile, which can be built from countries that agree to donate a portion of their vaccine, could guarantee some vaccine would be equitably distributed within the developing world in the event of a pandemic, Dr. David Heymann, WHO's top flu official, told The Associated Press.

A long-term goal would be for poor countries to receive enough technology and training to produce vaccines. (AP)


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