Richer nations refuse sharing bird flu virus samples

Updated: 2007-11-26 19:51

Richer nations and drugmakers refused to share their bird flu virus samples which upset developing countries that wanted to develop cheap vaccines by the virus samples, media reported Monday.

Developing states like Indonesia -- which with 91 of the 206 human bird flu deaths since 2003 is the hardest hit country -- want guarantees from richer nations and drugmakers that they will have access to cheap vaccines if they share samples.

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"We must have equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of viruses through a fair, transparent and equitable mechanism. It is the moral thing to do," said Siti Fadillah Supari, Health Minister of Indonesia.

The WHO agreed last May to revamp its 50-year-old system for sharing flu virus samples with researchers and drug firms. It had wanted its 191 member states to adopt an agreement by May but divisions remain.

John Lange, US special representative for avian and pandemic influenza, ruled out any automatic reward for sharing.

Research and development of vaccines was "very risky, time-consuming and extremely expensive" and it was critical to protect patents to ensure their continued development, he said.

Experts fear the constantly mutating H5N1 virus could change into a form easily transmissible among humans and sweep the world in months, killing millions of people.

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