Indonesia stalls bird flu deal27th November 2007
The Indonesian government is a key player in the race to produce vaccines against bird flu, but has said it will refuse to cooperate with global health researchers unless agreements are in place to protect its intellectual property, and to ensure that poorer countries have access to affordable vaccines in the event of a pandemic.
A spokeswoman for the country's health ministry attending negotiations hosted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Geneva said her minister was adamant that no samples - which are crucial for tracking the mutation of the virus - would be sent overseas without a written agreement in place for each one to ensure they were not used for commercial reasons.
Jakarta is concerned that while the poorest countries are expected to toe the line on international scientific cooperation, they are often last in line when it comes to access to key treatments.
In January, frustrated that an Indonesian strain of the virus had been used to make a vaccine that most Indonesians would not be able to afford, the country stopped cooperating with the WHO and made a deal to send samples to Baxter Healthcare, an American company, in return for a low-cost vaccine and help in building vaccine factories in Indonesia.
The current agreement means the Indonesian government will still have leverage if it seeks to negotiate affordable vaccines with big pharmaceutical companies at an affordable price.
At this week's meeting, Health Minister Siti Fadillah Supari insisted on "equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of viruses" at the meeting.
As viruses mutate rapidly both before and during a pandemic, the global sharing of samples is crucial to tracking their development and developing appropriate vaccines and treatments. It is also necessary to see whether the pathogen has become drug resistant or grown more transmissible.
Indonesia wants a "material transfer agreement" for each virus sample sent to foreign labs, which it says would help to ensure that its samples could not be commercially exploited without its consent.
The talks are aimed at reaching a new agreement to replace a 50 year-old sample-sharing agreement, which WHO has agreed needs updating.
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