Saturday, May 19, 2007

Bird flu sample row ends with agreement

Wednesday, March 28, 2007
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Indonesia agreed Tuesday to resume sending bird flu samples to laboratories overseas after a two-day meeting on the issue organized by the World Health Organization.

Health Minister Siti Fadillah Supari said Indonesia expected a guarantee that the samples would not be used to develop commercial bird flu vaccines.

International scientists have said this makes it impossible to monitor the Indonesian virus to see if it is mutating into a more dangerous form.

"We will resume sharing bird flu samples with the World Health Organization immediately," Siti told reporters after two days of talks in which top WHO officials assured her the virus would not be misused.

"We trust the WHO will not violate our trust, because this is related to the WHO's credibility."

Siti has been demanding that the WHO 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.

Indonesia -- which has the largest number of fatalities caused by bird flu, at 66 deaths -- received support from many developing countries when it suspended samples sharing.

The suspension came in after an Australian drugmaker produced a vaccine using the Indonesian strain of the bird flu virus without Jakarta's consent.

Indonesia has signed a memorandum of understanding with U.S. drug maker Baxter Healthcare Corp to jointly develop a bird flu vaccine based on the Indonesian strain. (02)

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