Health ministers meet over bird flu plans
Updated: 2005-10-25 09:43
World health ministers meeting in Canada to discuss strategies to fight the
spread of bird flu emphasized Monday that preventing the disease from mutating
into a deadly human virus was as important as developing new vaccines against
That said, some officials at the opening of a two-day conference on battling
a potential flu pandemic were discussing whether they might have to break
international patent regulations to produce generic versions of Tamiflu if it
came down to saving their civilians.
"A suggestion that's being made by some countries is that there are countries
that have the capacity to manufacture the vaccine, that we actually need to
assist them with technology transfers," Canada's Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh
told a news conference. He said technology transfers was "a euphemism for
loosening the patent laws."
Dosanjh was referring to recent statements by Indian authorities, who are
weighing whether there is enough risk of bird flu spreading in their
impoverished nation to invoke a compulsory licensing clause to lift Swiss
pharmaceutical Roche's patent of Tamiflu, the coveted anti-flu drug considered
by many as the only viable one that can fight bird flu.
The World Trade Organization in
2003 decided to allow governments to override patents during national health
crises, though no member state has yet invoked the clause.
Canadian Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh (L)
listens to World Health Organization Director-General Lee Jong-wook speak
on the first day of a two-day health conference in Ottawa October 24,
"It may not be resolved here; but there are countries out there that are
saying they will defy patent protections and we couldn't be judgmental if people
are dying," Dosanjh said.
World Health Organization Director General Lee Jong-Wook said the conference
delegates were consider a proposal by Mexico for the wealthier nations to put
aside 10 percent of their stockpiles of Tamiflu and other potential influenza
drugs for poorer nations. He said some nations had suggested 5 percent was more
in line with reality, but conceded some countries likely would horde drugs in
the face of a true pandemic.
"In time, when there's a real need for Tamiflu, the basic instinct will be,
`This is for our people,' and it's an unnatural act to share this precious small
quantity of medicines with others," Lee said. That is why, he said: "It makes a
lot of sense to try and put out the fire out there, rather than waiting for this
wave to reach you."
Lee emphasized the need for transparency and immediate reporting of any cases
of avian flu. China was widely criticized in the early stages of SARS for not
going public with its cases.
Dr. Jacques Diouf, head of the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization, said
countries must not overlook the goal of tamping down bird flu in Southeast Asia
while obsessing over the development of antiviral drugs.
"As the world takes prudent measures to prepare for a major human pandemic,
greater measures must be taken to stop this disease, in its tracks, at its
source, in animals. This is very possible. It can be done," Diouf said.
One of the ninety birds that was confiscated
from an illegal business during Saturday's operative of Environment and
Natural Resources Ministery (MARENA) rests in the National Zoo of Managua,
Nicaragua, Monday Oct. 24, 2005. Britain is considering banning live birds
since an imported parrot recently died of the Asian bird flu.
He said it would take more money to make a dent in efforts to wrestle under
control the highly pathogenic H5N1 virus, which is endemic in parts of Asia. He
said 140 million chickens and ducks had been culled in Southeast Asian, costing
those countries $10 billion and devastating rural communities.
Diouf suggested it would take $1 billion to make a dent in efforts to wrestle
under control the highly pathogenic H5N1 virus, which is endemic in parts of
Asia. However, only $25 million has been pledged.
As the conference convened, European health officials were meeting in
Copenhagen to review that continent's readiness for a possible human pandemic.
The deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu has been confirmed in Russia, Romania and
Turkey, and experts in Britain were trying to determine Monday whether six
Croatian swans found last week had H5N1 — a strain that scientists fear could
mutate into a virus that would easily spread person-to-person.
Though medical research has advanced tremendously since the Spanish flu of
1918, which claimed as many as 50 million lives worldwide, air travel and open
borders make the threat of pandemic ominous.
Dr. David Nabarro, the U.N.'s point man on bird flu, caused a stir last month
when he warned that a pandemic could kill anywhere from 5 million to 150 million
people, prompting WHO to try to dampen fears by estimating 7.4 million deaths
was a better forecast.
The bird flu remains the greatest threat in Southeast Asia, where the virus
has killed 61 people since 2003, mostly poultry farmers and their relatives in
Vietnam and Thailand. Indonesia and Cambodia have also suffered a combined seven